Behavioural sciences

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Behavioral science is the systematic analysis and investigation of human and animal behaviour through controlled and naturalistic observation, and disciplined scientific experimentation. It attempts to accomplish legitimate, objective conclusions through rigorous formulations and observation.[1] Examples of behavioural sciences include psychology, psychobiology, criminology and cognitive science.

Difference between behavioural sciences and social sciences

The term behavioural sciences is often confused with the term social sciences. Though these two broad areas are interrelated and study systematic processes of behaviour, they differ on their level of scientific analysis of various dimensions of behaviour.

Behavioural sciences abstract empirical data to investigate the decision processes and communication strategies within and between organisms in a social system. This involves fields like psychology, social neuroscience and cognitive science.

In contrast, social sciences provide a perceptive framework to study the processes of a social system through impacts of social organisation on structural adjustment of the individual and of groups. They typically include fields like sociology, economics, public health, anthropology, demography and political science.[1]

However, many subfields of these disciplines cross the boundaries of behavioral and social. For example, political psychology and behavioral economics use behavioral approaches, despite the predominant focus on systemic and institutional factors in the broader fields of political science and economics.

Categories of behavioral sciences

Behavioral sciences can be divided into two academic fields: neural (information sciences) and social (relational sciences).

Information processing sciences deal with information processing of stimuli from the social environment by cognitive entities, to engage in decision making, social judgment and social perception for individual functioning and survival of organism in a social environment. Psychology, cognitive science, psychobiology, neural networks, social cognition, social psychology, semantic networks, ethology and social neuroscience are classified as information processing sciences.

On the other hand, relational sciences deals with relationships, interaction, communication networks, associations and relational strategies or dynamics among organisms or cognitive entities in a social system. sociological social psychology, social networks, dynamic network analysis, agent-based model and microsimulation are classified as relational sciences.

Theories of Behavioral Psychology

Classical Conditioning

A theorist that contributed a theory to behavioral science is Ivan P. Pavlov. He was a Russian psychologist born in 1849. In 1883 acquired a medical degree from the Imperial Medical-Surgical Academy. He then received a Nobel Prize for his extensive research of the digestive glands’ physiology at the age of 55 in 1904. In the United States the majority of psychologists did not recognize Pavlov for all his work, instead they only gave consideration to his idea of classical conditioning.[2]

Classical conditioning was discovered by Ivan P. Pavlov in 1927.[3] Classical conditioning is accompanying a specific stimuli with a certain response which is learned over a period of time. Pavlov came to the discovery of this theory through an experiment he carried out which involved his dog and its reaction to their food. Pavlov had noticed that his dog would salivate whenever they would smell the food or see him coming. Intrigued by the connection between the food and the salivation, he chose to identify why this was happening. He concluded that the dog salivating was an unconditioned reflex, meaning it is something that they are born with and it is not learned, and therefore he wondered whether he could pair the behavior of salivation with any other stimuli.[2]

He began the experiment where he would try to recreate the connection between the food and the salivation with a connection between a conditioned stimuli and a conditioned response. When he was going to feed his dog he would ring a bell and as the food would come into sight the dog started to produce saliva. After doing this for a certain period of time, the dog would pair the sound with the food which resulted in the dog providing a conditioned response. Over time the dog learned that whenever the bell rang food would be provided therefore when the bell was rung it would begin to produce saliva. By utilizing the process of classical conditioning, Pavlov managed to teach his dog to learn the pairing of the bell and his production of saliva.[2]

Operant Conditioning

Another contributor to behavioral psychology was Burrhus Frederic Skinner, also known as B. F. Skinner, who created the theory of operant conditioning. Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania in 1904 and was one of two children. Once he graduated high school, he attended Hamilton College where he was an English major, eventually earning a degree in writing. He began his career in writing, but felt as though he had nothing to offer and decided to end his pursuit of a career as a writer. This led him to return to school. He attended the Psychology Graduate Program at Harvard, receiving his Ph.D in 1931. With a doctorate degree he continued in the field of psychology, in 1945 becoming the Chair of Psychology at Indiana University. Three years later in 1948 he decided to return to Harvard when he was offered a job as a professor of psychology.[4]

Operant conditioning is a theory that falls under operant condition. It is composed of the idea that if behavior is reciprocated with a certain consequence, whether it is a positive or a negative reinforcement, the behavior is more likely to be repeated and become constant. A consequence is a reaction to a behavior which serves as a reinforcement. Although both a positive reinforcement and a negative reinforcement will encourage the repetition of the specific behavior. A positive reinforcement is a consequence that provides you with a good feeling that then encourages the certain behavior, which led to this positive reinforcement to be repeated until it becomes a learned behavior that you do unconscientiously.[5]

For example, if you eat a chocolate and you find it to taste very good then you will most likely eat another chocolate whether it is immediately after or some other time. In the given event, the pleasing taste of the chocolate was the positive reinforcement and the act of eating it was the behavior that was reinforced. This scenario can also be altered to show the meaning of a negative reinforcement. A negative reinforcement is a consequence that causes discomfort leading to the aversion of the behavior that led to that consequence. For example, say you eat the chocolate and you find it to be disgusting, then that will lead you to avoid eating that chocolate making the taste of the chocolate the negative reinforcement and the avoidance of eating that chocolate again the behavior.[5]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Klemke, E. D., Hollinger, R., and Kline, A. D., (1980), Introduction to the book in 'Introductory Readings in the Philosophy of Science': Buffalo, New York, Prometheus Books p 11-12
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Malone, John C. (1990). Theories of Learning: A Historical Approach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co. pp. 55–89.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Fiske, Susan T., Daniel L. Schacter, and Alan E. Kazdin. Annual Review of Psychology. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews, 2006. Print.
  4. O'Donohue, William T., and Kyle E. Ferguson. The Psychology of B.F. Skinner. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001. Print.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Skinner, Burrhus F. About Behaviorism. New York: Knopf, 1974. Print.

Selected bibliography