In fact, behaviour is a very important concept because it is the main focus and subject matter of psychology. Consequently, the concept needs very clear explanation for better understanding. What then is behaviour? “Behaviour can be explained as any activity or action of a living organism manifested either consciously or unconsciously which can be observed either directly or indirectly by another person.”
In this case, behaviour may range from such simple activities as sleeping, playing with a friend, to such complex ones as acquiring a new skill, educating yoing children, managing a big organization and leading a multi-ethnic/religious country like Nigeria, India or former Soviet Union. Behaviour may also be positive or negative, normal or abnormal, inborn or acquired, internal or external. All these types of activities come within the scope of psychology.
Types And Aspects Of Behaviour
The attempt to classify behaviour into various types is simply for intellectual or academic convenience. Otherwise, the two types of behaviour generally recognized by psychologists (i.e overt and covert behaviours), are inter-related because the former is nothing but an open expression of the latter. However, besides the two types as generally identified by psychologists, behaviours can also be typified on the basis of the processes by which they originate and the motives which they tend to satisfy or conditions under which they are manifested. These categories of behaviour may be expressed overtly or covertly and can be used to assess the individual.
For our own purpose therefore, behaviour can be classified as follows:
1. Overt Behaviour
This includes all such activities or actions of a living organism, which can be observed directly by another person as such actions are manifested. Activities such as walking, running, laughing, crying, eating, cooking, reading, etc., are examples of overt behaviour. Our assessment of others and our interactions with them are largely based on their overt behaviours.
2. Overt Behaviour
This aspect of behaviour includes such internal physiological processes and activities of individual that cannot be seen openly or observed directly by merely looking, except by the use of special instruments or techniques. Examples of such behaviours are: thinking, dreaming, heart-beat, changes in pulse-rate and blood pressure, processes of digestion, feeling of humger, etc.
3. Genetically Inherited Behaviour
This includes all such behavioursthat are transferred from parents to their offsprings through genetic processes and such behaviour traits that are peculiar to people of the same biological stock. They also include such behaviours that are specific to particular species of animals.
For instance, there are certain behaviour traits that are peculiar to members of the same parentage or biological origin. This may be found in thes pronounciation of words, either in English or French, not withstanding the educational background or social oreintation of such individuals. Even such other behaviour traits as stammering, stealing, over-anxiousness, intelligence, etc., can be genetically transferred from parents to their immediate off-spring or second or third generation children. Is there any wonder then that in some parts of Nigeria, particularly, Igbo land, before marriage is finally contracted, the families of the couple concerned will make inquiries to find out how the parents of the would-be couple had lived or whether there is any case of mental problem or criminal tendercies that can be traced to the parents of either of the couple.
Again too, the barking habit of dogs is a genetically transferred behaviour. The new puppy starts barking without having to learn it. Therefore, such behaviour is purely species-specific. And it is also peculiar to animals belonging to the dog family. There is also a higher tendency of individuals either of whose parents is a twin to give birth to twins.
4. Socialy Acquired Behaviour
There are such behaviours that are acquired either consciously or unconsciusly interacting with people of different socio-cultural groups and backgrounds. This also includes such behaviours developed through the process of formal learning and socialization. For instance, we develop language skill by interacting with or learning from people that use the very language. Besides, our mode of dressing, choice of food and the way we eat, and even certain unwanted habits, are acquired as we interact and socialize with other individuals.
5. Behaviour May Also Be Classified As Formal Or Informal
1. It is said to be formal when such behaviour pattern follows certain laid down principles aimed at achieving a particular goal or objectives. For instance, our behaviours at learning or working situations are usually formal in nature.
2. On the other hand, informal behavious include those ones expressed as we interact with others or relate with our social environment casually. In fact, behaviour may be said to be informal when it does not follow any laid down rules or principle. For example, street fighting, joking with play-mates, etc., come under informal behaviour.
Besides, behaviour may be either normal or abnormal, depending on its consistency with, or deviation from the cultural norms and standards of the society.
Is Psychology Truly A Science?
Psychology was earlier defined as the scientific study of behaviour of living organisms. This raises the question whether psychology is truly a science? This question can better be answered by first explaining the term, Science.
Science may be explained as a body of systematized and organized knowledge (about certain facts and events) acquired by carefully observing, recording and verifying the facts or events under study, either in the laboratory experiment or natural environment. When a body of principles and laws are developed and categorized into stages to study and understand the natural phenomena and predict the outcome of such events as accurately as possible, scientific knowledge has been evolved.
In essence, science deals with facts and principles, which can be used to prove and predict course and outcome of the event or subject under study.
Second, the facts on the basis of which the principles used in studying the event or subject matter must be obtained by carefully controlled and objective observation.
In the third place, every science has to formulate general principles (laws) that guide or govern the facts and events which come within the scope of its study; and such laws must be universal.
Lastly, all scientific knowledge must be accurate, definite, verifiable and reliable.
Psychology can be called a science because it follows the approaches described above in establishing the general laws and principles for the study and understanding of its subject-matter, which is behaviour.
However, Psychology is different from pure sciences like Physics, Chemistry, etc.
This is so because the subject of psychology is not the same as those of other pure sciences, Physics, for instance, deals with facts about heat, light, sound, radiation, etc., while Chemistry deals with composition and decomposition of matters like water, gas, salt, petroleum, drugs and such other chemical substances.
Limitations Of Psychology As A Science
As explained earlier, the subject matter of psychology is behaviour. Ironically too, its subject matter happens to be one of its major limitations as a science. The dynamic nature of behaviour makes 100% accurate prediction very difficult, or near-impossible. For instance, the same person may react differently at different times to similar or the same stimulus situations. Morever, the behaviours of living organisms, particularly, those of human beings, are constantly subject to changes depending on the mental disposition, state of mind and environmental circumstances, which cannot easily be held constant or be predicted with mathematical precision.
This is unlike pure sciences such as Chemistry, Psysics or Biology, whose subject matters can easily be manipulated and held constant at varying conditions for easy prediction of their reactions under certain circumstances.
Another limitation of psychology as a science is that some psychological questions are not easily answered due to some moral implications and practical limitations in carrying out certain experiments of scientific investigations on human subjects. For example, it will be both immoral and dangerous to deny a new born baby human contact and breast-feeding, say for the first nine months of birth, to find out the effects of such denial on the mental, physical and emotional development of the child.
However, despite such limitations as explained above, psychology still remains a science with its own scope and limits as no science, physical or natural, has all the answers to all questions and problems concerning its subject matter. It may therefore suffice to say that psychology is a science of behaviour because it adopts scientific approaches to establish facts and principles for the explanation of its subject matter (behaviour).
There are also other behavioural sciences like: Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, etc., but psychology differs from them because it studies both the internal and external processes of behaviour, while others restrict themselves to the external processes of behaviour.
Why Does Psychology Study Animals?
The term “Organism”, as used in the definition of psychology, refers to any living person or animal. This therefore raises the question as for why animals are included in the study of Psychology. The fact is that though Psychologists are primarily concerned with the study of human behaviour, there are also some of them who are interested in the study of behaviour of animals basically for research purposes and out of curiousity.
However, the most obvious reason is that there are some experiments which cannot be carried out on human beings to obtain facts about certain processes of behaviour. This may be due to some moral implications or health-hazards associated with such experiements on the human individuals. In such situations, a particular animal is used in alternative as an experimental subject. Whatever facts or findings obtained from such experiment help to give some insight about human beings. In fact, much of what we know today about the processes of behaviour and how habits are formed come from studies and researches in which animals are used as the experimental subject. Even when drawing any analogy on the basis of the findings so obtained, psychologists also remain conscious of the physiological differences that exist between human and animal systems.