According to psychologists, behaviour is everything or anything that a human being or animal does that can be observed in some way. In other words, behaviour includes all actions and responses of organisms that can be measured directly or indirectly. Behaviour not only means bodily movements but also can include mental and cognitive processes such as feelings, attitudes, thoughts, emotions, and all other internal vents, which cannot be observed directly but can be measured indirectly through what people say (vocal behaviour) and how they react to different problems and situations.
Some of the general characteristics of human behaviour
1. Behaviour is influenced by a number of factors
Behaviour is influenced by a number of factors such as biological, cultural, social, environmental, past experience, motivational, emotional, cognitive (e.g. feelings, emotions, motivation, thoughts) etc.
2. Behaviour varies in complexity
Behaviour can be as simple as picking a pen, waving a friend or reflex responses like sneezing etc. Some other behaviours include certain skills which become a habit over a period such as playing the guitar, cycling etc. Yet some other behaviours involve complex activities like repairing a car. Activities such as landing on the moon, flying a fighter plane, rock climbing etc. are some of the examples of highly complex behaviour.
3. The factors influencing behaviour are of different kinds
Behaviour is influenced by two large sets of factors:
i) Those belonging to the individual; and
ii) Those belonging to the environment.
Factors pertaining to an individual can be categorized under physiological (biological needs such as hunger, thirst etc.) and psychological ( ideas, opinions, attitudes etc.).
The environmental factors include physical surroundings, family and friends, the larger society and even the overall cultural and social background.
4. Individual differences
Behaviour also varies from one person to the other as well as from one group of people to the other group of people. People differ in their physiological and bodily conditions, in their past experiences, in their abilities, in their background etc. It is, therefore, natural that if ten people are put in the same situation, each person’s
behaviour differs from that of others, in some respects or in some degrees.
5. Behaviour also shows similarities
Though behaviour differs from person to person this does not mean that all people differ from all others, at all times, and in all situations. There is also a considerable degree of similarity in behaviour among people. For instance, if a particle of dust falls into a person’s eye, he/she tries to remove it. This type of behaviour is universally found.
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6. Behaviour is always purposeful and goal directive
Human behaviour is always purposeful and one’s actions are always directed towards some goal or the other. A boy sitting and studying suddenly gets up and takes a glass of water. Here, the goal is to have a glass of water and the purpose is to quench his thirst. On the other hand, a boy is sitting and studying and feels cold. He gets up and switches off the fan. Here the goal is to switch off the fan and the purpose is to avoid the discomfort of the cold. So, all our behaviours can be categorized under:
i) Approach behaviour (Positive goal-directed) or
ii) Avoidance behaviour (Negative goal avoidance)
7. Behaviour is changeable to a large extent
It was mentioned earlier that a number of factors influence behaviour. In view of this, it is possible to change behaviour by modifying these factors. It is this changeability which enables a child to become an adult, a bad man to become a good man and a good man to become a bad man. It is again this very characteristic which helps people to adjust to new surroundings. These changes are the results of one’s practice or experiences (learning).
8. Behaviour also shows stability
Though emphasis has been laid on the possible changes in behaviour, it must be mentioned that life is not always full of all sorts of changes. While behaviour changes, at the same time there is also certain stability in behaviour. It does not change with every change in the environment nor do all forms of behaviour change. Human behaviour shows a lot of stability. For instance, you may still find your grandmother preferring old ideas and old ways of life, though she is living in an ultra-modern society.
9. Behaviour is integrated
As already mentioned, behaviour is influenced by a number of factors and a variety of purposes. Every human being has physiological, psychological, personal and social purposes.
He/she has also been the subject of different learning experiences. In spite of all this behaviour always shows order and a hierarchy of purposes. Every individual behaves like a total person and this process of the organisation of different purposes, different learnings and different influencing factors result in an integration of behaviour.
Thus, an individual put in different situations still shows certain characteristic ways and styles of behaviour which help us to understand and predict his/her behaviour. We often say Ram is a pleasant person. Gobind is an unpleasant person, Krishna is a sociable person and so on. Psychologists use the term Personality to describe this process of integration. The greater the degree of integration in a person’s behaviour, the more effective his behaviour is likely to be.