What is Human Behavior? - Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:01 Human Behavior
  • 0:30 Human Behavior in Psychology
  • 1:17 Classical Conditioning
  • 2:35 Operant Conditioning
  • 3:14 Other Influences
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What does your behavior say about you? And how are behaviors shaped, anyway? Read on to learn about human behavior and conditioning. Then, test your knowledge with a post-lesson quiz.

Human Behavior

Have you ever watched a group of children play? They might laugh and run around. They might fight and hit each other. They might form a little group, with a leader naturally taking charge and the others following. What they do can tell you a lot about what the children are feeling and thinking.

Their actions can also tell you more about their relationship to each other. Human behavior is the term used to describe a person's actions and conduct. Observing and understanding human behavior is a crucial part of psychology.

Human Behavior in Psychology

Imagine a wrapped present. You can't see what's inside, but there are clues available to you: the size and shape of the package, the sound it makes when you shake it, how heavy it is, even whether it feels solid or soft. You can make an educated guess about what the present is if you observe all of these things.

Human behavior is like that. Everything you do and say tells the world about what's going on inside of you. Because psychologists can't observe thoughts or emotions, behavior has been an important part of psychology since the very beginning of the discipline. In the early 1900s, though, a study of behavior became even more important when Ivan Pavlov introduced the world to conditioning.

Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov

Pavlov was studying the digestion of dogs when he discovered that the dogs began to drool whenever they saw the person who was in charge of feeding them. He designed an experiment - ringing a bell whenever the dogs were fed. Pretty soon, the dogs would salivate whenever they heard the bell - even if there was no food in sight!

What Pavlov's dogs demonstrated was classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, a neutral stimulus (such as the sound of a bell) is presented at the same time as another, unrelated stimulus (such as the food). The non-neutral stimulus will automatically produce a response (drooling at the food). This is an unconditioned response. After a while, the neutral stimulus will also produce the response, as when Pavlov's dogs drooled at the sound of the bell. This is called a conditioned response.

You might be wondering what Pavlov's dogs have to do with human behavior. Classical conditioning happens in humans all the time. Imagine that you ate your favorite tacos and then got sick. Chances are you won't want those tacos for quite a while. That's classical conditioning: the tacos are the neutral stimulus, getting sick is the non-neutral stimulus. After those two are presented together, the tacos don't sound as good because you have a conditioned response to them.

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