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Behavioral Sciences

Updated on January 22, 2012

The Science of Behavior

All research techniques are founded on theories. For example, there is little sense in discussing scores on a scale of aggression without first specifying what is meant by aggression, and what criteria produce the grading system. Such precaution is, in fact, indispensable in all areas of science, but often it is forgotten in work on human behavior, and hence leads to suggestive or dogmatic judgments rather than ones solidly based. It is as if scientific methods were not congenial to the study of man.

For the scientist in human behavior, the situation is indeed a difficult one. We are strongly influenced by our feelings, emotions and ideals. We are attracted by art and ideology. We are subject to a morality that is both individual and collective. Yet we try to disregard the contradictory nature of reality and to establish certainties based on the analytic methods of reasoning.

By so doing, the study of man could then follow the structured path taken in physics, chemistry and biology, or so it would seem.

But this is the sticking point. The "human" sciences (and we use the term conventionally) have not yet accumulated sufficient data to either explain or predict our behavior. And, if by behavior we mean both our actions and our interior lives, which add up to the way we behave, then we must admit we have a long way to go before realizing truly satisfactory objectives. Thus far, there have been only partial successes, and those have been limited to a few theoretical fields (e.g. perceptual psychology, and the study of attitudes) and to some practical areas such as the prediction of certain consumer trends, and insurance company assessments.

Understandably, though not justifiably, short cuts have been taken. In many instances, we have settled for a mixture of science, art, ideology and various other human spheres, and this mixture continues to be adopted precisely because of the changing nature of its methodology, in short, its refusal to submit to scientific norms.

Each one of us has a desire to comprehend the gamut of human behavior, perhaps in the hope that a full understanding of behavior mechanisms will eventually allow us to control our destinies. Much of the temptation to produce "global" explanations which are wholly or largely unprovable, is based, in part, upon such an aspiration. Indeed it smacks a bit of the diabolical.

Of course there is no egregious wrong in considering extra-scientific reasoning. Faith, passion and the metaphysical permeate human life and we cannot deny their importance, nor would we wish to, or the fact that they are essential for the task of getting on with life.

After all , the works of the great poets are the very spice of life.

However, we must not allow ourselves to put the seal of scientific approval on theories of human behavior that are still largely unconfirmed, or are nothing more than opinions that yield only partial explanations.

To dispel any potential misunderstanding and to immediately establish the proper approach, we would like to stress the fact that certain assumptions are purely hypothetical.

Both science and philosophy are necessary, but they should coexist harmoniously, and not in a state of reciprocal confusion . In this book, we will try to point out certain advances in psychology and at the same time indicate those areas where hypotheses of varying degrees of reliability have a practical application. The reader will easily see which areas are scientifically proven, and which are particularly resistant to scientific research.

We also need a little air in our lives. According to Erich Fromm, the conflict between "to be" and "to have" characterizes our daily lives, and "to have" is often of first priority: One has certain capacities, we have good characters, you have an infectious smile, they have good friends.

These expressions underline the essentially acquisitive nature of normal human experience, and it is the acquisitiveness that frequently retards true growth. Too often our relationships are based more on antagonism than on solidarity; they are competitive and cloaked in fear rather than open and sharing. We dare not risk appearing less intelligent, less productive or less creative than others. To do so might adversely affect our images and, as a result, our careers, salaries and social status. This leads to a perception of ourselves as trapped in constant, and perhaps tragic, competition with others.

Modern man must work to be rather than to have.

Fromm wrote that one must find "security, sense of identity and confidence based on faith in what one is, on one's need for relatedness, interest, love, solidarity with the world around one, instead of on one's desire to have, to possess, to control the world ... Love and respect for life in all its manifestations, in the knowledge that not things, power, all that is dead, but life and everything that pertains to its growth are sacred. . . Developing one's imagination ... knowing oneself, not only the self one knows, but also the self one does not know, even though one has a slumbering knowledge of what one does not know ... making the full growth of oneself and of one's fellow beings the supreme goal of living."

But can our book be seen in such a broad perspective?

In our opinion it can, because games can be seen as microcosms of everyday situations.

All games require of their players an awareness of undertaking an important (we might even say serious) activity governed by its own rules of interaction with others (and with oneself), and a particular mode of behavior: During a game, you must pay attention to what you are doing, you should respect the game's conventions and rules, and if you win you should not appear openly superior to, or look down, on the loser.

Indeed, a game is an analogy of real life. Sociologist and anthropologist Erving Goffman described games as activities that build worlds, and should there be boundaries between them and everyday existence, those boundaries act as a kind of sieve, selecting, transforming and modifying everything that passes through .

Games give us the chance to distance ourselves from much of the conditioning to which we are subjected in the course of daily life, and they provide a context in which the acquisition of self-knowledge is not inspired simply by our desire to gain prestige. We hope these pages are a stimulus and serve as a means to improving one's self-knowledge-a source of pleasure in itself. You come to life when you begin to discover yourself and those around you in a variety of situations.

In short, discovery is a form of growth.


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    • Mark Pitts profile image

      Mark Pitts 

      6 years ago from United States

      Applied Behavior Analysis is a science and does require checks on the validity of any conclusions, methods, or interventions. Such as any actions or experiments by the Behaviorist must be replicatable by another. Also, any Behaviorist who has ever done the hours of observation and measurement necessary to define a target behavior and then establish a baseline knows there is no room for dogma, because your work has t be usable by others that follow you with a client. This was an interesting piece, but maybe I missed the intent of what you were trying to say. I have been certified as a Behavioral Analyst for 18 years, and some of your opinions about the profession don't appear to agree with what I know to be true.


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