Defining Behavior and its Relationship to the Science of Psychology

Abstract

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.

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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

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Keywords

  • Behavior
  • Mind
  • Ontology
  • Definition of psychology
  • Tree of knowledge system