A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Analysing Human Behaviour

 

Human behaviour is certainly built on schedules of reinforcements but at a micro-molecular sort of level, so these are not useful or even possible to discern for the analysis of everyday human behaviour.

I sometimes use a very simplified approximation to help orient my analyses to the most pertinent features of a person’s context (for my further analysis).

For any human behaviour, consider that there are always three sources of consequences or effects that will shape future behaviours:

  1. The effects or consequences from the environment when behaving in that way
  2. The effects or consequences from what other people will do (friends, strangers, community, family, employers, etc.) if you behave in that way
  3. The effects or consequences from what you say or ‘prepare’ to say (talking and thinking) when behaving in that way

 

These can simply be called:

  • Behavioural consequences (behaviour)
  • Social consequences (emotion)
  • Language use consequences (cognition)

[In terms of “Intro to Psychology”, you can very roughly think of these as:

  • Behaviour
  • Emotion
  • Cognition]

What this is saying is that the history and life-long training of adult humans means that there are always three sources of consequences that shape any behaviour, even if no one else is present at the time.

 

Thought Experiment

Think about yourself walking alone in a deserted alley and finding a bag containing $2,000.

Think about all the events that would be happening to you in this situation…

We must analyse, at the least:

  • what the money will allow you to do and has allowed you to do in the past (the consequences of having money)
  • what people would say or do when they find out you took the money, shaped from what they have said or done in the past
  • what you are saying or thinking (rehearsing got say) about the money and its consequences, shaped from what has happened when you spoke of such things in the past

Each of these is even more complex and require more description of that person’s context to analyse properly.   (Money is an especially complex example… see my books for more analysis)

But compare…

If an experimental rat found a bag of food pellets in a deserted alley on the way to the laboratory, the behaviour would only be shaped by the consequences of having food pellets (“nom nom nom”).  It would not be shaped by what other rats or its human experimenter might say or do, nor by what the rat might be thinking it will say later about the bag of food pellets.

But with humans we must always at the least think about three sources of consequential control:

  • Behavioural consequences (behaviour)
  • Social consequences (emotion)
  • Language use consequences (cognition)

 

 

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