Behavioural sciences

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For the journal, see Behavioral Science (journal).
An image from a behavioural science study.[1]

Behavioural science is the systematic analysis and investigation of human and other animal behaviour through controlled and naturalistic observation and disciplined scientific experimentation. It attempts to accomplish legitimate, objective conclusions through rigorous formulations and observation.[2] Disciplines which make use of behavioural science include psychology, psychobiology, criminology, sociology, and cognitive science.

Comparison with social sciences[edit]

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. One source states: "Behavioral science focuses on the behavior of human beings and animals whereas social sciences focus on the human being in the social context".[3]

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.[2]

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


Behavioural 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 judgement, 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 models, and microsimulation are classified as relational sciences. Relational sciences attempt to explain how a person is influenced by different social interactions and how societal phenomenons are developed through the accumulation of individual responses towards society and each other.[4]


Classical conditioning[edit]

A major theory in psychological behaviorism is that of Classical conditioning, which was discovered by Ivan P. Pavlov in 1927.[5] This refers to a specific stimulus coming to be accompanied by a certain (conditioned) response as a result of a period of learning. Pavlov came to the discovery of this theory through an experiment he carried out on dogs' reactions 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 behaviour of salivation with any other stimuli.[6] 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.[6]

Operant conditioning[edit]

Another contributor to behavioural psychology was B. F. Skinner, who created the theory of operant conditioning. This theory postulates that, if a behaviour is followed by a reinforcing consequence, the behaviour is more likely to be repeated and become constant. This occurs whether the consequence is positive reinforcement, which rewards the organism with a good feeling that then encourages the behaviour, or a negative reinforcement, in which the organism is rewarded by the removal or prevention of an aversive event or stimulus.[7] In contrast, if a behaviour is followed by a punishing consequence, such as addition of an aversive stimulus (positive punishment) or the removal of an enjoyed stimulus (negative punishment), then the behaviour is less likely to be repeated. Negative reinforcement should not be confused with punishment.[8]

For example, if a person eats a chocolate and finds it to taste very good, then they will most likely eat another chocolate, whether it is immediately after or at some other time. The pleasing taste of the chocolate serves as positive reinforcement, and the act of eating it is the reinforced behaviour. In contrast, a positive punishment is a consequence that causes discomfort, leading to the reduction of the behaviour that led to that consequence. For example, if a person eats chocolate and finds it to be disgusting, then that will lead them to avoid eating that chocolate.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paddock, Catharine (31 October 2012). "Brain can't empathize and analyze at same time, new study". Medical News Today. 
  2. ^ a b 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
  3. ^ "Difference Between Behavioral Science and Social Science". Difference Between. 2015-01-20. Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  4. ^ Donati, Pierpaolo (2011). Relational sociology a new paradigm for the social sciences (1. publ. ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-86028-4. 
  5. ^ Fiske, Susan T., Daniel L. Schacter, and Alan E. Kazdin. Annual Review of Psychology. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews, 2006. Print.
  6. ^ a b Malone, John C. (1990). Theories of Learning: A Historical Approach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co. pp. 55–89. 
  7. ^ a b Skinner, Burrhus F. About Behaviorism. New York: Knopf, 1974. Print.
  8. ^ "The Difference between Positive/Negative Reinforcement and Positive/Negative Punishment - Behavior Analysts Tampa: ABA Therapy, Autism, Behavior Problems, ADHD/Learning Disabilities". 2013-02-05. Retrieved 2016-07-22. 

Selected bibliography[edit]