Two Basic Kinds of Behavior


Two Basic Kinds of Behavior

There are only two kinds of behavior in humans and other animals. One kind of behavior is called Operant Behavior because it “operates”, or acts, on the environment. Most important, operant behavior is controlled by its consequences. Consequences are said to “control” our behavior because they increase (strengthen) or decrease (weaken) the future frequency of the behaviors they follow. Consequences influence our operant behavior probabilistically, not absolutely. For example, a child who is praised for helping with a chore, is more likely to help others in the future. A child who is allowed to push another child down and take their toy, is more likely to be aggressive to others in the future.

The only other kind of behavior is Respondent Behavior. The word respondent means that these behaviors are reflexive responses to specific stimuli. Common examples of our respondent behavior are being startled by a loud noise, snapping our had away from a hot flame, or salivating when we put food in our mouths.

As you will see, these two apparently simple kinds of behavior, and they ways they can be learned, are of huge importance to the lives of fellow citizens and to our socioculture.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.       4/20/10

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17 Responses to “Two Basic Kinds of Behavior”

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  8. Shon green Says:

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  9. Frank Fujita Says:

    Wow, what a mis-reading. I read there are only two types — the first is Operant — and I (contrary to the text) then read “classical” rather than “respondent.” Sorry to be so dense.

    • vtmawhinney Says:

      Frank,

      No problem, my friend. The imprefect pursuit of the the truth is what guides us. I’m sure I will match your honest mistake….and then some.

      Tom

  10. Frank Fujita Says:

    Surely there are more than only two kinds of behavior. One example is innate behavior — such as a baby blinking its eyes when its nose is touched. There are other types too.

    • vtmawhinney Says:

      Good to hear from you, Frank.

      I am posting snippets of some of my writing on the psychology of cultural change. I will be selecting only some psychological principles for explanation and example, depending on the point that I wish to make, at particular locations in my book.

      In the taxonomy of behavior and its classes, it could be argued that there are types other than operant and respondent. However, from a conditioning and learning perspective, operant and respondent behaviors are the two most basic classes of behavior, of which all other typologies are comprised (imprinting, imitative behavior in newborns–children and adults also, and innate fixed action behavior patters) for examples.

      I would view unlearned reflexes, innate behavioral reactions to specific stimuli, to be examples of respondent behavior. Your example of an infant blinking to a nose touch would be such a reflex and is also an example of respondent behavior, which is innate. As you know, some such reflexes begin as respondents and later in development, come under the control of consequences (as in toilet training of children), an interesting maturational admixture of respondent and operant behavior comprising a complex chain of social behavior.

      Anyway, when it comes to our own self-defeating behaviors, at the individual or cultural levels, I believe the most relevant basic classes of our behavior are operant and respondent.

      I will always appreciate your editorial reactions to my postings.

      Tom

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