Even though the concept of behavior is central to modern psychology, there is no consensus regarding what the term behavior means. The current paper focuses on disentangling two separate conceptions of the term that have added to the confusion. One meaning of the term behavior pertains to natural scientific epistemology, specifically the requirements of empirical methodology and its reliance on data that are measurable and available to public observation. The second meaning pertains to ontology and relates to the fact that at a descriptive level there are different kinds of behavioral patterns in the universe. Put simply, inanimate material objects behave differently from living organisms, which behave differently from animals, which behave differently from people. This paper introduces a “Periodic Table of Behavior” derived from Henriques’, Review of General Psychology, 7, 150–182, (2003, 2011) Tree of Knowledge System to map the different kinds of behaviors that are described and examined by different sciences. It concludes by using the formulation to clarify the relationship between the methodological and ontological description of behavior and argues how the basic science of psychology can be effectively defined as the science of mental behavior going forward.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Ashby, W. R. (1952). Design for a brain. London: Chapman & Hall.
Baars, B. (1986). The cognitive revolution in psychology. NY: Guilford Press.
Barkana, R. (2006). The first stars in the universe and cosmic reionization. Science, 313, 931–934.
Bergner, R. (2011). What is behavior? And so what? New Ideas in Psychology, 29, 147–155.
Bray, D. (2009). Wetware: A Computer in every Living Cell. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Breydo, L., Sales, E., Frege, T., Howell, M. C., Zaslavsky, B. Y., & Uversky, V. N. (2015). Effects of polymer hydrophobicity on protein structure and aggregation kinetics in a crowded milieu. Biochemistry, 54, 2957–2966.
Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Funder, D. C. (2007). Psychology as the science of self-reports and finger movements: whatever happened to actual behavior? Perspectives in Psychological Science 2, 396–403. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00051.x.
Cahoone, L. (2013). Orders of nature. New York: Stony Brook Press.
Chittka, L. (2017). Bee cognition. Current Biology, 27(19), R1049–R1059.
Christian, D. (2018). Origin story: The big history of everything. New York: Little, Brown and Co.
Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Putnam Publishing.
Das, T. (2017). Origin of singularity in big bang theory from zero point energy. Canadian Journal of Physics, 95, 767–769.
Deacon, T. (2011). Incomplete nature: How mind emerged from matter (p. 2011). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Dehaene, S. (2014). Consciousness and the brain: Deciphering how the brain codes our thoughts. New York: Penguin books.
Dodd, M. S., Papineau, D., Grenne, T., Slack, J., Rittner, M., Pirajno, F., O’Neil, J., & Little, C. T. S. (2017). Evidence for early life in earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates. Nature, 543, 60–64.
Ettinger, R. H. (2018). Essentials of psychology: The science of behavior. New York: BVT Publishing.
Farnsworth, K. D., Nelson, J., & Gershenson, C. (2013). Living is information processing: From molecules to global systems. Acta Biotheoretica, 61, 1–25.
Frank, A., & Sullivan, W. T., III. (2016). A new empirical constraint on the prevalence of technological species in the universe. Astrobiology, 16, 359–362.
Henriques, G. R. (2003). The tree of knowledge system and the theoretical unification of psychology. Review of General Psychology, 7, 150–182.
Henriques, G. R. (2004). Psychology defined. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60, 1207–1221.
Henriques, G. R. (2008). The problem of psychology and the integration of human knowledge: Contrasting Wilson’s consilience with the tree of knowledge system. Theory and Psychology, 18, 731–755.
Henriques, G. R. (2011). A new unified theory of psychology. New York: Springer.
Henriques, G. R. (2017). Character adaptation systems theory: A new big five for personality and psychotherapy. Review of General Psychology, 21, 9–22.
Henriques, G. R. (2019). Toward a metaphysical empirical psychology. Book chapter in Re-envisioning theoretical and philosophical psychology (Ed. Thomas Teo), pp. 209–237. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan
Henriques, G. R., & Sternberg, R. J. (2004). Unified professional psychology: Implications for combined-integrated doctoral training programs. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60, 1051–1063.
Henriques, G. R., Michalski, J., Quackenbush, S., & Schmidt, W. (in press). The Tree of Knowledge System: A new map for Big History. Journal of Big History.
Kankanamge, D. G. J., & Moore, W. B. (2016). Heat transport in the hadean mantle: From heat pipes to plates. Geophysical Research Letters, 43, 3208–3214.
Kaufman, S. A. (2019). A world beyond physics: The emergence and evolution of life. Oxford University Press.
Kirschner, S. (2019). The indispensable subject of psychology: Theory, subjectivity and the spectre of inner life. Book chapter in Re-envisioning theoretical and philosophical psychology (Ed. Thomas Teo), pp. 131–159.
Kral, K., & Prete, F. (2004). In the mind of a hunter: The visual world of the praying mantis. In Prete (Ed). Complex Worlds from Simpler Nervous Systems. Chapter MIT Press.
Lamiell, J. (2017). The incorrigible science: A conversation with James Lamiell. In: Macdonald H., Goodman D., Becker B. (eds) Dialogues at the Edge of American Psychological Discourse. Palgrave Studies in the Theory and History of Psychology. Palgrave Macmillan, London
Levitis, D. A., Lidicker, W. Z., Jr., & Freund, G. (2009). Behavioral biologists do not agree on what constitutes behavior. Animal Behavior, 78, 103–110.
Lunine, J. I. (2006). Physical conditions on the early earth. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London – Biological Sciences, 361, 1721–1731.
Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Boston: Shambala.
Mercier, H. & Sperber, D. (2017). The enigma of reason: A new theory of human understanding. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Moore, J. (2011/2012). Methodological behaviorism as a radical behaviorist views it. Behavior and Philosophy, 39/40, 145–202.
Myers, D., & DeWall, C. N. (2016). Exploring psychology (10th Ed.). New York: MacMillian Worth publishers.
Nagel, E. (1961). The structure of science: Problems in the logic of scientific explanation. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Naour, P. (2009). E. O. Wilson and B. F. Skinner: A dialogue between radical behaviorism and sociobiology. New York: Springer.
Nataf, P., & Ciuti, C. (2010). No-go theorem for superradient quantum phase transitions in cavity QED and counter-example in circuit QED. Nature Communications, 1, 72.
Ossorio, P. G. (2006). The behavior of persons. The collected works of Peter G. Ossorio, Vol. V. Ann Arbor: Descriptive Psychology Press.
Rachlin, H. (1999). Teleological behaviorism. In W. O’Donohue & R. Kitchener (Eds.), Handbook of behaviorism (pp. 195–215). San Diego: Academic. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-012524190-8/50009-7.
Scharf, C., & Cronin, L. (2016). Quantifying the origins of life on a planetary scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113, 8127–8132.
Schrödinger, E. (1967/1944). What is life? The physical aspect of the living cell. London: Cambridge University Press.
Shaffer, L. S. (2008). Religion as a large-scale justification system: Does the justification hypothesis explain animistic attribution? Theory & Psychology, 18, 779–799. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354308097257.
Siegfried, T. (2000). The bit and the pendulum: From quantum computing to M theory: The new physics of information. New York: Wiley.
Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. Oxford: Appleton-Century.
Skinner, B. F. (1981). Selection by consequences. Science, 213, 501–504.
Skinner, B. F. (1987). What ever happened to the science of behavior? American Psychologist, 42(8), 780–786.
Skinner Foundation (posted 2009). Video showing pigeons playing ping pong. Retrieved January 17, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGazyH6fQQ4.
Spradling, A. C. (2006). Learning the common language of genetics. Genetics, 174, 1–3.
Stahlman, W. D., & Leising, K. (2018). The coelacanth still lives: Bringing selection back to the fore in a science of behavior. American Psychologist, 73(7), 918–929. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000261.
Stam, H. (2015). The neurosciences and the search for a unified psychology: The science and esthetics of a single framework. Frontiers in Psychology, Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01467, 6.
Tryon, W. (2016). Transtheoretic transdiagnostic psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 26(3), 273–287. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0040041.
Uher, J. (2013). Personality psychology: lexical approaches, assessment methods, and trait concepts reveal only half of the story-Why it is time for a paradigm shift. Integrative Psycholology and Behavioral Science, 47, 1–55. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-013-9230-6.
Uher, J. (2016). What is behaviour? And (when) is language behaviour? A metatheoretical definition. Journal of the Theory of Social Behavior, 46, 475–501. https://doi.org/10.1111/jtsb.12104
Wasserman, E. (2018). What’s next? American Psychological Association monitor. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/07-08/cover-next.aspx#wasserman. Accessed 7 Jan 2019.
Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158–177.
Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, ecology, spirituality: The spirit of evolution. Boston: MA: Shambala.
Wilson, E. O. (1998). Consilience: The unity of knowledge. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Wimsatt, W. C. (2007). Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings: Piecewise approximations to reality. Cambridge: Harvard University.
Wolfson, R. (2013). Physics and our universe. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyTKyj9kpVk. Accessed 12 Feb 2019.
Wray, G. A. (2015). Molecular clocks and the early evolution of metazoan nervous systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London – Biological Sciences, 370, 46–57.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Henriques, G., Michalski, J. Defining Behavior and its Relationship to the Science of Psychology. Integr. psych. behav. 54, 328–353 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-019-09504-4
- Definition of psychology
- Tree of knowledge system