Behavioral script

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In the behaviorism approach to psychology, behavioral scripts are a sequence of expected behaviors for a given situation.[1] Scripts include default standards for the actors, props, setting, and sequence of events that are expected to occur in a particular situation. The classic script example involves an individual dining at a restaurant. This script has several components: props including tables, menus, food, and money, as well as roles including customers, servers, chefs, and a cashier. The sequence of expected events for this script begins with a hungry customer entering the restaurant, ordering, eating, paying and then ends with the customer exiting.[2] People continually follow scripts which are acquired through habit, practice and simple routine. Following a script can be useful because it could help to save the time and mental effort of deciding on appropriate behavior each time a situation is encountered.


Semantic memory builds schemas and scripts. With this, semantic memory is known as the knowledge that people gain from experiencing events in the everyday world. This information is then organized into a concept that people can understand in their own way. Semantic memory relates to scripts because scripts are made through the knowledge that one gains through these everyday experiences and habituation.

There have been many empirical research studies conducted in order to test the validity of the script theory. One such study, conducted by Bower, Black, and Turner in 1979,[3] asked participants to read 18 different scenarios, all of which represented a doctor’s office script. The participants were later asked to complete either a recall task or a recognition task. In the recall task, the participants were asked to remember as much as they could about each scenario. Here, the participants tended to recall certain parts of the stories that were not actually present, but that were parts of the scripts that the stories represented. In the recognition task, participants were asked to rate various sentences on a 7-point scale regarding their personal confidence that they had seen each sentence in the scenario. Some sentences shown to participants were from the stories and some were not. Of the sentences that were not from the stories, some were relevant to the doctor’s office script and others were not relevant to the script at all. Here, participants tended to recognize certain non-story sentences as having come from the story if the non-story sentence was relevant to the script. Ultimately, Bower, Black, and Turner’s study suggested that scripts serve as a guide for a person’s recall and recognition for certain things that they already know.

Behavioral scripts that people are taught allow them to make realistic assumptions about situations, places, and people. These assumptions stem from what are known as schemas. Schemas make our environments more approachable to understand, and therefore people are able to familiarize themselves with what is around them. When people become comfortable with what they find familiar, they are more likely to remember events, people or places that obscure from their initial thought or script.[4]

Some people may have a tendency to habituate behavioral scripts in a manner that can act to limit consciousness in a subliminal way. This can negatively influence the subconscious mind and, subsequently, can negatively affect perceptions, judgments, values, beliefs, cognition and behavior. For example, over-reliance upon behavioral scripts combined with social norms that encourage an individual to use these behavioral scripts may influence one to stereotype and develop a prejudiced attitude toward others based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, etc.

Some applied behavior analysts even use scripts to train new skills[1] and 20 years of research supports script use as an effective way to build new language, social, and activity routines for adults and children with developmental disabilities.[1] With language scripts fading, efforts are being made in an attempt to help the scripts recombine in order to approximate more natural language.

Much of the development of scripts first addresses language and how it influences what we know and understand. With language, many psychologists have used the specific study of language[5] to develop theories about concepts and scripts. In particular, researchers recognize semantic memory development is mostly possible through verbal-linguistic stimuli. Language and memory are constantly used for people to be able to interpret what experiences or people mean to or relate to them. Here, language has influence on the scripts people use because of its relationship to semantic memory.

There are also instances where damage to a person’s script affects to their ability to understand concepts. For instance, Sirigu, Zalla, Pillon, Grafman, Agid, and Dubois (1995)[6] conducted a study on brain-damaged patients and their ability to access scripts that relate to a certain situation. Within their study, they asked patients with brain-damage (particularly to their prefrontal cortex) to make as many scripts for different situations as they could and put them in their commonly known sequence. These researchers found that those with prefrontal brain damage could make just as many scripts for different situations as those without prefrontal brain damage. Although with finding this, these researchers also found that patients with prefrontal brain damage had a difficult time putting in order or sequencing the events that happen within a script. They concluded that the prefrontal brain-damaged patients had difficulty within finding the goal of each script, where each script has a specific thing that a person looks for to achieve. For example, within the script of going to a restaurant, the goal of the dinner would be to eat, where prefrontal brain-damaged patients are likely to see the goal of this script as paying for the meal or ordering for the food.

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  1. ^ a b c Barnett, D.W. et al. (2006). Preschool Intervention Scripts: Lessons from 20 years of Research and Practice. Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis, 2(2), 158–181 ISSN 1932-4731
  2. ^ Sternberg, Robert J. (2012). Cognitive Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. p. 337. ISBN 978-1-133-31-391-5.
  3. ^ Bower, G.H; Black, J.B.; Turner, T. J (1979). "Scripts in memory for texts". Cognitive Psychology. 11 (2): 177–220. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(79)90009-4. S2CID 46225238.
  4. ^ Baddeley, A. (2015). Memory. New York, NY: Psychology Press. p. 184. ISBN 978-1848721845.
  5. ^ Glenberg, A. M. (2001). "What Language Needs from Memory (and vice versa)". Essays in the Honor of Robert G. Crowder: 351–368. doi:10.1037/10394-019. ISBN 1-55798-750-5.
  6. ^ Sirigu, Zalla, Pillon, Grafman, Dubois, & Agid, A., T., B., J., B., & Y. (1995). "Planning and script analysis following prefrontal lobe lesions". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 769 (1): 277–288. Bibcode:1995NYASA.769..277S. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1995.tb38145.x. PMID 8595032. S2CID 23086640.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)