This article throws light upon the nine general characteristics of human behaviour. Some of the characteristics are: 1. Behaviour is Influenced by a Number of Factors 2. Behaviour Varies in Complexity 3. The Factors Influencing Behaviour are of Different Kinds 4. Individual Differences 5. Behaviour Shows Individual Differences and Similarities 6. Behaviour is Always Purposeful or Goal Directed and Few Others.
Characteristic # 1. Behaviour is Influenced by a Number of Factors:
The behaviour of living organisms is always influenced by a number of factors. Some forms of human behaviour are influenced by a large number of factors while other forms of behaviour are influenced by a fewer factors.
Two examples of a simple form of behaviour are given below:
i. You are sitting in your room reading a novel and suddenly your mother calls you. Immediately you leave your chair and respond to her call. Here the factor which influences your behaviour the most is your mother’s voice.
ii. You are walking along a road when three boys start making fun of you. Here your behaviour will be determined by a number of factors. If you are alone and if the other boys appear to be bent on giving you trouble and if you are also in a hurry to reach your destination you will probably ignore them and quietly keep proceeding. On the other hand if you have friends with you and feel that you can face the situation and you are also not in a particular hurry, then probably you will pick up a fight with them.
Characteristic # 2. Behaviour Varies in Complexity:
Now compare the former example with the latter one. The latter is much more complicated and is influenced by a number of factors. One may, however, see that behaviour ranges in the degree of complexity from simple behaviour which is influenced by a large number of factors, to complex behaviour influenced by a large number of factors. Examples of a very complex behaviour may be seen in complex decision-making activities, such as a judge who delivers a judgement considering a number of factors.
Characteristic # 3. The Factors Influencing Behaviour are of Different Kinds:
Human behaviour is influenced by a number of factors. These factors belong to different categories. Some of them are physiological and the others psychological. Physiological factors relate to the physical or biological needs such as hunger, thirst etc. Psychological factors relate to factors such as ideas, opinions, attitudes etc.
On the other hand, there are factors not pertaining to the individual but which are external that influence behaviour. Physical surroundings, the nature of events, family and friends, the larger society, and even the overall cultural and social background influence behaviour. Thus, we may see that behaviour is influenced by two large sets of factors: those belonging to the individual and those belonging to the environment. The former can again be classified into the bodily or physiological and the psychological. The environmental factors can be classified into immediate and direct, and remote and indirect.
These factors gradually influence and shape the behaviour of people. As the person grows from infancy through childhood to adulthood, behaviour is regularly and cumulatively influenced by these factors. This is the reason why we find that a person behaves very differently as an adult compared to the way he did as a child.
A young child walking with his mother and coming across an ice-cream parlor insists on his mother buying him an ice-cream. He cries and creates a scene. The same child, a few years later, in a similar situation behaves very differently though his liking for ice-cream has probably not changed. It is this process of gradual change and shaping of behaviour that helps people to behave effectively and normally.
If on the other hand, for some reason, such changes do not take place, then the behaviour of the person becomes un-adaptive and looks peculiar. Of course, there are many cases where such changes do not take place and the behaviour of these people comes to be labelled as maladjusted or abnormal. We will certainly have occasion to deal with this phenomenon in a later section in greater detail.
Characteristic # 4. Individual Differences:
Human behaviour is influenced by a number of factors and these factors vary from one person to another and even from one group of people to another group of people. People differ in their physiological and bodily conditions, in their past experiences, in their abilities, in their background and in short, in everything.
It is, therefore, natural that if ten people are put in the same situation all of them do not behave alike. Each person’s behaviour differs from that of others in some respect or to some degree. Thus, if three boys are walking along the road and they come across a cat, one would like to catch the cat, the other may start pelting stones at it and the third will probably run away because he has been told that it is a bad sign to have a cat cross one’s path.
These individual differences result from a number of factors or causes. In fact, a large part of modem psychology is concerned with the problem of understanding how individual differences arise and of devising ways and means of minimizing them.
While differences which arise from hereditary or inherited factors affecting the bodily processes cannot always be eliminated, much of the differences arising from past experience, social background, etc. can be minimized if not totally eliminated.
Characteristic # 5. Behaviour Shows Individual Differences and Similarities:
In the above paragraphs emphasis was laid on the fact that behaviour differs from person to person. But this does not mean that all people differ from all others, at all times and in all situations. There is also a considerable degree of similarity in behaviour among people. For instance, if a particle of dust falls into a person’s eye, he tries to remove it.
This type of behaviour is universally found. On the other hand, there are instances of behaviour where such universality is not found, but a large number of people are found to behave similarly. Imagine a school situation where the lunch bell has just rung and all the boys come running out. A hawker selling sweetmeat is found standing outside, but his wares are not kept clean.
Some boys buy the sweetmeat and eat while another group of boys take a second look and remark, “This is dirty. We should not eat.” Here we find groups of people behaving above like and yet differently from other people. Thus, we find not only individual differences but also group differences.
It is obvious that psychologists should understand and explain all these shades and degrees of similarities and differences. It will be possible to predict what people will do on a particular occasion only to the extent that we can understand and explain similarities. Here we may compare the position of a psychologist with that of a physicist or chemist.
A physicist can safely say that any piece of iron when heated will expand. Similarly, a chemist can say that anything which bums consumes oxygen. But the nature of human behaviour is such that a psychologist is not in a position to make such assertions about all forms of behaviour of all people at all times, though he can make predictions about some forms of behaviour in all people, and among large groups of people and still other forms of behaviour in small groups of people. Thus, the possibility of prediction in psychology depends on the nature of the situation.
We can note, interestingly, that by and large all new-born children behave alike. But as they grow, individual differences appear and as they grow, even further, there is an increase both in similarities and differences. Adults are simultaneously more like among themselves and also more different from each other when compared to children.
While the increasing similarities may be attributed to factors in the environment such as social, political, and economic conditions of the society, increasing differences are by and large attributable to factors in the individual himself, e.g. his abilities, past experience etc. This trend of increasing differences and similarities is attributable to the fact that individuals grow and the environment changes. It is this situation which makes the task of psychology difficult.
Over the years researchers in psychology have tried to develop two types of laws:
(1) Laws which explain generality and similarity of behaviour,
(2) Laws and principles which explain group differences and individual differences in behaviour.
These two sets of laws are complementary. Sometimes those aspects of psychology which deal with the first set of laws are brought under the term General Psychology and the latter under Differential Psychology. But a complete understanding of behaviour depends on integrating both these aspects.
Characteristic # 6. Behaviour is Always Purposeful or Goal Directed:
Human behaviour is always purposeful and one’s actions are always directed towards some goal or the other. A boy sitting and studying suddenly gets up and takes a glass of water. Here the goal is to have a glass of water and the purpose is to quench his thirst. On the other hand imagine the same boy sitting and studying. His younger sister goes around him making a noise. The boy tries to move away from the place.
Here the purpose is to avoid the noise and disturbance and the goal is to reach a place where this noise is not heard. One can gather two points from these examples. In the first example, the boy could have quenched his thirst either by taking water or by having a soft drink. The purpose remains the same while the goals can be different.
In the latter example he could have avoided the disturbance either by moving away to a safer place or by sending his sister away or by spanking her. Here again the purpose is the same while the goals can be different. Thus, purposes are more constant and stable while goals can change and one can choose from alternative goals.
Yet another difference is that in the first example the boy moves towards water. This is what is called An Approach Behaviour or Positive Goal Directed Behaviour. In the second instance the boy’s purpose is to avoid the disturbance. This is called Avoidance Behaviour. Thus, purposes and goals can be of an approach or an avoidance type.
Again purposes can be either physiological, psychological or social. Quenching of thirst is a physiological purpose. Reading to learn is a psychological purpose, while joining a group of striking boys even though a person is unwilling is a social purpose.
Psychologists have used a number of terms in explaining the purposive nature of behaviour. Some of the terms used are instinct, drive, need, motive etc. While these terms, by and large, are concerned with the understanding of the purposeful nature of human behaviour, nevertheless they differ from each other.
Purposes and goals are influenced both by hereditary bodily factors and by experiential-environmental factors. Some purposes and goals are universal and arise from processes in the body while others are purely learnt and acquired.
Yet another interesting fact is that in some cases the behaving organism is aware of the purpose while in other cases it is not. These latter purposes are called “unconscious purposes”. In recent years a lot of knowledge has been gained about unconscious purposes and their role in behaviour, largely due to the efforts of Sigmund Freud.
Characteristic # 7. Behaviour is Changeable to a Large Extent:
A number of factors influence human behaviour. In view of this it is possible to change behaviour by modifying these factors. It is this changeability which enables a child to become an adult, a bad man to become a good man and a good man to become a bad man.
It is again this very characteristic which helps people to adjust to new surroundings. An Indian migrating to a foreign country very soon acquires new ways of behaviour, learns a new language and new ways of dressing. These changes are the result of his experience.
Such types of changes which result from experience are generally referred to as results of learning. Much of human behaviour is a result of learning. A child learns to behave as an adult. A person newly joining an office learns the work in the office and learns to behave like others.
All these changes are products of learning. Learning, therefore, has been a topic of major concern in psychology. Several theories have been developed and a large number of experiments conducted on both human beings and animals.
These findings have not only helped to understand how the learning processes take place but have also helped people to learn the appropriate behaviour at each stage of the process. They have also helped us to bring about changes in people who have learnt inappropriate forms of behaviour.
While changes due to learning are mainly results of experience, there are also other forms of changes in behaviour which are not dependent on learning. For example, a very young child cannot walk steadily whereas an older one walks steadily. Such changes are inherent natural changes resulting from changes in the body system due to growth and maturation.
In many instances one can find that changes in behaviour are results of interaction between growth and maturation on the one hand and learning on the other. Thus, a six-year-old boy cannot ordinarily wield a tennis racquet in spite of practice because he has not grown enough.
On the other hand any adult cannot be a good tennis player unless he learns and practices. Changes in behaviour are products of growth, maturation and learning. The combined operation and effect of all these is called the Process of Development.
Characteristic # 8. Behaviour Also Shows Stability:
Life is not always full of all sorts of changes. While behaviour of people changes, at the same time there is also certain stability in behaviour. It does not change with every change in the environment nor do all forms of behaviour change.
Human behaviour shows a lot of stability. For instance, you may still find your grandmother preferring old ideas and old ways of life, though she is living in an ultramodern society. It is this which makes life full of contradictions and it is this which also makes it possible for the psychologist to predict behaviour. If human behaviour was not stable there would be utter confusion. People would not be able to live with each other.
This stability results from the following facts:
(a) Changes in behaviour are always slower than change in the environment.
(b) There are certain periods of life when physiological changes proceed rather slowly.
(c) Sometimes psychological changes are slow when the rapid environmental changes do not result in correspondingly rapid changes in the behaviour.
(d) However, it often happens that when physiological changes are fast, the environment remains stable.
(e) More than all these the fact which contributes to the stability of behaviour is the purposeful nature of human behaviour. To the extent that purposes remain constant, behaviour shows consistency and stability.
Characteristic # 9. Behaviour is Integrated:
Human behaviour, is influenced by a number of factors. It is influenced by a variety of purposes. Every human being has physiological, psychological, personal and social purposes. He has also been the subject of different learning experiences. In spite of all these, behaviour always shows an order and a hierarchy of purposes. Every individual believes as a total person and not in an unpredictable manner.
This process of the organisation of different purposes, different learning’s and different influencing factors results in an integration of behaviour. Thus, an individual put in different situations still shows certain characteristic ways and styles of behaviour which help us to understand and predict his behaviour and also to differentiate him from others.
For example, when we say that Ram is a pleasant person, Govind is an unpleasant person, Krishna is a sociable person and so on. Every person reveals certain overriding characteristics of behaviour which are revealed in almost all situations. Psychologists use the term “personality” to describe this process of integration and organisation of behaviour which gives a sense of individuality or uniqueness to every person. The greater the degree of integration in a person’s behaviour the more effective his behaviour is likely to be.
A considerable amount of research in psychology has been devoted to studying and explaining this process of integration and development of personality. A number of theories have been developed in this context. What is important here is the fact that human behaviour shows stability, consistency, similarity, as well as uniqueness.