The article was last updated by Dr. Emily Tan on February 4, 2024.

Behavior is a fascinating aspect of psychology that encompasses a wide range of types and theories. From innate and learned behaviors to voluntary and involuntary actions, the study of behavior offers valuable insights into human nature.

In this article, we will explore the different types of behavior, theories that explain behavior, factors that influence behavior, and strategies for modifying behavior. Join us on this journey as we delve into the complex world of human behavior.

Key Takeaways:

  • Behavior in psychology can be categorized as innate, learned, voluntary, involuntary, prosocial, and antisocial.
  • Theories such as behaviorism, social learning theory, and cognitive behavioral theory help understand and explain human behavior.
  • Factors such as genetics, environment, culture, and personal experiences influence behavior in psychology.
  • Behavior can be modified through techniques such as positive and negative reinforcement, punishment, and extinction.
  • Types of Behavior in Psychology

    Understanding behavior in psychology involves recognizing various types of human actions and responses, ranging from overt and covert behaviors to conscious and unconscious patterns.

    When we talk about overt behaviors, we are referring to actions that are observable and can be easily distinguished by others. These may include behaviors such as talking, walking, or texting on a phone.

    On the other hand, covert behaviors are those that are internal and not openly displayed, like thinking, dreaming, or feeling a certain emotion.

    Similarly, conscious actions are decisions and behaviors that a person is aware of and intentionally controls, like choosing what to eat for breakfast or deciding to go for a run. Conversely, unconscious patterns are automatic responses or habits that happen without conscious awareness, like nail-biting or tapping your foot when nervous.

    Innate Behavior

    Innate behavior, often observed in animals like whales and dolphins, refers to instinctual actions and responses that are genetically programmed and do not require prior learning.

    These fascinating creatures exhibit a myriad of instinctive behaviors that aid in their survival and social interactions. For instance, whales possess innate navigation abilities, allowing them to undertake long migrations across vast ocean expanses with remarkable precision.

    Similarly, dolphins showcase innate communication skills, using distinct vocalizations to convey messages and establish social hierarchies within their pods. This genetic predisposition for specific behaviors not only streamlines their interactions but also plays a crucial role in perpetuating their species.

    Learned Behavior

    Learned behavior, as studied by psychologists like Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, and Chris Drew, involves acquiring new actions and responses through experiences, conditioning, and observation.

    In classical conditioning, pioneered by Pavlov, an individual learns to associate a neutral stimulus with a reflex response. For instance, when a dog hears a bell ring before being fed, it starts salivating, associating the bell with food.

    On the other hand, B.F. Skinner’s work on operant conditioning focuses on the consequences of behavior. Through reinforcement and punishment, behaviors are either strengthened or weakened. This can be seen in a child cleaning their room to receive praise from their parents.

    Observational learning, a concept introduced by Bandura, involves observing and imitating others’ behaviors. Children often learn by watching their parents or peers, such as a toddler repeating a new word they heard their sibling say.

    Voluntary Behavior

    Voluntary behavior encompasses actions that individuals consciously choose to engage in, influenced by personal preferences, mental health factors, and environmental stimuli.

    Personal preferences play a crucial role in shaping voluntary behavior, as individuals are more likely to engage in activities aligned with their likes and dislikes. Mental health conditions can also impact decision-making processes, influencing the choices individuals make.

    External triggers in the environment can either reinforce or deter certain behaviors. In terms of modifying voluntary behaviors, strategies tailored to address anxiety, stress, or specific personality traits can be highly effective. By understanding the underlying factors influencing voluntary actions, individuals can work towards making positive changes in their behavior.

    Involuntary Behavior

    Involuntary behavior, as explored by Freud and Watson, refers to actions and reactions that occur without conscious control or intention, often driven by unconscious motives or physiological processes.

    Freud, a prominent figure in psychology, delved into the intricacies of the unconscious mind and its role in shaping behavior. He proposed that involuntary actions stem from repressed desires or unresolved conflicts stored in the subconscious.

    Watson, on the other hand, emphasized the influence of biological factors on involuntary behavior, highlighting instincts and reflexes as key determinants. These perspectives shed light on the complex interplay between the subconscious mind and innate drives, illustrating how deeply rooted impulses can manifest in involuntary actions.

    Prosocial Behavior

    Prosocial behavior involves actions that benefit others or society as a whole, reflecting altruism, empathy, and cooperation in individual or collective settings.

    In the field of psychology, prosocial behavior is seen as crucial for building strong bonds within communities and fostering a sense of mutual support. Acts of kindness, whether big or small, play a significant role in shaping social interactions and promoting cohesion. When individuals engage in prosocial actions, they contribute to creating a positive social environment where empathy and cooperation thrive.

    On a larger scale, collective movements such as volunteer programs or community initiatives are powerful examples of how prosocial behavior can have a transformative impact on societal well-being. By coming together to address common challenges and support one another, groups can catalyze positive change and create a more inclusive and harmonious society.

    Antisocial Behavior

    Antisocial behavior involves actions that disregard social norms, harm others, or undermine collective well-being, often necessitating interventions and strategies for replacement behaviors.

    Individuals exhibiting antisocial behaviors may demonstrate a lack of empathy, aggression, deceitfulness, or impulsivity, deviating from expected societal conduct. These actions can stem from various factors, including adverse childhood experiences, genetic predispositions, or dysfunctional family dynamics. Understanding the root causes of such behavior is crucial in implementing effective interventions and prevention strategies.

    One approach to addressing antisocial behaviors involves promoting positive social skills, empathy development, and conflict resolution techniques. By fostering a sense of community and emphasizing prosocial behaviors, individuals can be encouraged to engage in constructive interactions and contribute to the well-being of the collective.

    Theories of Behavior in Psychology

    Theories of behavior in psychology offer frameworks for understanding human actions and responses, with prominent models including behaviorism, Social Learning Theory, and Cognitive Behavioral Theory.

    Behaviorism, as founded by B.F. Skinner and John B. Watson, asserts that behavior is learned through interactions with the environment, focusing on observable actions and their consequences.

    In contrast, Social Learning Theory, popularized by Albert Bandura, highlights the importance of observation and imitation in shaping behavior, suggesting that individuals learn from watching others and the reinforcement they receive.

    Cognitive Behavioral Theory, developed by Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, delves into the influence of thoughts and beliefs on behavior, emphasizing the role of cognition in modifying actions and emotions.


    Behaviorism, as advocated by B.F. Skinner and Watson, focuses on observable actions and the impact of reinforcement and punishment in shaping individual behaviors.

    Skinner’s work introduced the concept of operant conditioning, which emphasizes how behavior is strengthened or weakened based on the consequences that follow. For example, if a student receives praise for completing homework, they are more likely to continue the behavior. On the other hand, if a child is scolded for hitting a sibling, they may refrain from such actions in the future.

    Watson’s research further emphasized the role of environmental factors in shaping behavior. He conducted the famous ‘Little Albert’ experiment, where a child was conditioned to fear a white rat through association with a loud noise, demonstrating how phobias and responses can be learned through classical conditioning.

    Social Learning Theory

    Social Learning Theory, championed by Bandura, emphasizes the impact of observational learning, social modeling, and environmental cues on individual behaviors.

    In Social Learning Theory, individuals learn by observing others and mimicking their behaviors. This process involves not only imitating actions but also internalizing the consequences of these actions. For example, a child may watch a parent’s reaction to a certain situation and learn whether the behavior is desirable or not. Role models play a crucial role in shaping behaviors, as individuals are more likely to imitate those they admire or perceive as successful.

    Cognitive Behavioral Theory

    Cognitive Behavioral Theory delves into the interplay between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, emphasizing cognitive restructuring, adaptive coping strategies, and the management of mental health challenges.

    As individuals navigate their daily lives, their thoughts often shape their emotional responses and subsequent actions. Through the lens of Cognitive Behavioral Theory, these cognitive processes like interpretation, beliefs, and self-talk play a pivotal role in determining behavioral outcomes. By addressing and reshaping these cognitive patterns, individuals can alter their emotional experiences and behavioral reactions. This theory underpins various therapeutic interventions aimed at modifying behavior, managing stressors, and enhancing overall mental well-being.

    Factors Influencing Behavior

    Behavior is influenced by a complex interplay of genetic predispositions, environmental stimuli, cultural norms, and individual experiences, shaping the diversity and variability of human actions.

    Genetic predispositions play a crucial role in determining certain baseline traits and tendencies that individuals may exhibit in their behaviors. These genetic factors can set the foundation for how a person responds to various stimuli or situations. Environmental triggers, such as upbringing, societal influences, and experiences, provide the context in which these genetic predispositions manifest.

    Cultural norms further contribute to the shaping of behavior by dictating acceptable social conduct within a given society. These norms act as guidelines that influence individuals’ choices, beliefs, and values, ultimately reflecting in their actions and interactions with others.


    Genetics play a pivotal role in shaping behavior, with inherited traits and predispositions influencing the development of certain actions, preferences, and responses.

    The study of genetics in psychology delves into the complex interaction between one’s genetic makeup and their behavior. Inherited traits handed down from ancestors can predispose individuals to specific tendencies, such as risk-taking behavior or introversion. This intergenerational transfer of traits not only affects individual actions but also shapes overall personality.

    Researchers often analyze the heritability of certain behaviors to understand the extent to which genes play a role in their expression. The dynamic interplay between genetics and environmental factors, commonly known as the nature-versus-nurture debate, further underscores the complexity of behavior outcomes.


    The environment exerts significant influence on behavior through external stimuli, social interactions, and conditioning processes that shape individual responses and actions.

    External stimuli within the environment can trigger different responses in individuals, ranging from subtle changes in mood to significant behavioral shifts. Social interactions play a crucial role in molding behavior as people adapt to the norms and expectations of their surroundings. These interactions can influence everything from language acquisition to social cognition, impacting how individuals perceive and react to the world around them.


    Cultural norms and values significantly influence behavior, shaping societal expectations, interpersonal interactions, and collective actions that reflect the diversity of human conduct.

    Understanding the impact of culture on behavior within psychology is essential for grasping the complexities of human behaviors in different contexts. Cultural practices, belief systems, and social structures play a crucial role in molding behavior patterns, determining how individuals perceive themselves and others in society.

    By examining the influence of cultural norms, psychologists can gain insights into the motivations behind certain actions and decisions, unraveling the intricate web of values and traditions that guide collective behavior.

    Personal Experiences

    Personal experiences, encompassing individual histories, past traumas, and learned behaviors, have a profound impact on shaping behaviors, attitudes, and responses to various stimuli.

    These experiences serve as the building blocks of an individual’s psychological makeup, influencing their decision-making processes and interpersonal relationships. Traumas from the past can lead to deep-rooted fears or anxieties that manifest in behaviors or coping mechanisms.

    Learned behaviors acquired through observing, imitating, or conditioning also play a crucial role in shaping how one reacts to different situations.

    Memory recall of past events further contributes to the way behaviors are displayed, as past experiences can be triggers for certain behaviors. Understanding how personal experiences interact with psychological processes is key to unraveling the complexities of human behavior.

    How to Modify Behavior

    Modifying behavior in psychology involves utilizing strategies such as Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Punishment, and Extinction to shape and alter individual actions and responses.

    Positive Reinforcement works by providing a reward or incentive after a desired behavior, encouraging its repetition. For instance, in a classroom setting, a teacher might praise a student for completing homework on time, reinforcing the behavior.

    Negative Reinforcement involves removing an unpleasant stimulus to increase the likelihood of a specific behavior. An example could be a parent stopping nagging once a child cleans their room.

    Punishment, on the other hand, introduces a consequence after an unwanted behavior to decrease its recurrence. For example, a manager reprimanding an employee for lateness.

    Extinction involves withholding reinforcement to eliminate a behavior. This could be seen when ignoring tantrums to discourage the behavior in a child.

    Positive Reinforcement

    Positive Reinforcement involves rewarding desired behaviors to increase the likelihood of their recurrence, fostering motivation, and creating positive associations with specific actions.

    By utilizing rewards, praise, and incentives, Positive Reinforcement operates on the premise that when a person receives a favorable outcome after exhibiting a certain behavior, they are more likely to repeat that behavior in the future. This technique taps into the psychology of reinforcement theory, emphasizing the impact of positive feedback on behavior modification. The concept aligns with intrinsic motivation, where individuals find personal satisfaction in accomplishing tasks without the need for external rewards. Positive Reinforcement also plays a role in behavior shaping, gradually guiding individuals towards specific behaviors through consistent feedback and reinforcement.

    Negative Reinforcement

    Negative Reinforcement entails removing aversive stimuli or consequences upon displaying desired behaviors, reinforcing the likelihood of such actions and reducing the occurrence of undesired responses.

    This process relies on the principles of avoidance learning and escape conditioning.

    In avoidance learning, individuals learn to perform a behavior to prevent an aversive outcome, while in escape conditioning, they learn to engage in a behavior to terminate an ongoing aversive situation.

    The use of negative stimuli plays a crucial role in this form of behavior modification, influencing the consequences of actions and shaping future behaviors. By understanding the dynamics of negative reinforcement, individuals can effectively alter behavioral patterns towards more desired outcomes.


    Punishment involves applying negative consequences or aversive stimuli to decrease the likelihood of unwanted behaviors, discouraging their repetition through conditioning and deterrence.

    In behavior modification, punishment is often used as a form of consequence to discourage behaviors that are considered undesirable or inappropriate. By associating a negative outcome with a specific behavior, individuals are less likely to engage in that behavior again. This process is rooted in the principles of operant conditioning, wherein behaviors are shaped by their consequences.

    It is important to note that the use of punishment in behavior modification comes with ethical considerations. For example, there is a fine line between punishment and abuse, and it is crucial to ensure that the punishment is appropriate and does not cause harm.


    Extinction refers to the process of weakening and eventually eliminating learned behaviors by removing reinforcement or rewards previously associated with those actions, leading to decreased occurrence of the targeted responses.

    When utilizing extinction in the realm of behavior modification, it is crucial to understand that this technique involves a deliberate and systematic approach to curb undesired behaviors. By withholding the positive or negative reinforcements that once strengthened a behavior, the individual is less likely to exhibit that behavior in the future. This behavioral approach plays a significant role in reshaping responses, fostering the learning of more desirable behaviors over time. It is important to note that extinction can sometimes lead to an initial increase in the unwanted behavior known as an extinction burst, where the subject intensifies the behavior when the expected reinforcement is removed.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are the different types of behavior in psychology?

    There are several types of behavior in psychology, including cognitive, emotional, social, and developmental behavior. These behaviors can be influenced by a combination of internal and external factors.

    How does understanding behavior in psychology help in daily life?

    Understanding behavior in psychology allows individuals to better understand themselves and others, leading to improved communication, relationships, and overall well-being.

    What is cognitive behavior in psychology?

    Cognitive behavior in psychology refers to the mental processes involved in thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. This includes attention, perception, memory, and language skills.

    How does emotional behavior impact our mental health?

    Emotional behavior can greatly affect our mental health, as it can influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Negative emotions, if not properly managed, can lead to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

    How do social factors influence behavior?

    Social factors, such as family, peers, and culture, can greatly influence our behavior. These factors can shape our beliefs, values, and attitudes, which in turn influence our actions and interactions with others.

    What is the importance of understanding developmental behavior in psychology?

    Understanding developmental behavior in psychology is crucial in understanding how individuals grow and change over time. This knowledge can help identify potential issues and provide appropriate interventions for healthy development.

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