Human behavior

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Social interaction and creative expression are forms of human behavior

Human behavior is the potential and expressed capacity (mentally, physically, and socially) of human individuals or groups to respond to internal and external stimuli throughout their life.[1][2] Behavior is driven by genetic and environmental factors that affect an individual. Behavior is also driven, in part, by thoughts and feelings, which provide insight into individual psyche, revealing such things as attitudes and values. Human behavior is shaped by psychological traits, as personality types vary from person to person, producing different actions and behavior.

Social behavior accounts for actions directed at others. It is concerned with the considerable influence of social interaction and culture, as well as ethics, interpersonal relationships, politics, and conflict. Some behaviors are common while others are unusual. The acceptability of behavior depends upon social norms and is regulated by various means of social control. Social norms also condition behavior, whereby humans are pressured into following certain rules and displaying certain behaviors that are deemed acceptable or unacceptable depending on the given society or culture.

Cognitive behavior accounts for actions of obtaining and using knowledge. It is concerned with how information is learned and passed on, as well as creative application of knowledge and personal beliefs such as religion. Physiological behavior accounts for actions to maintain the body. It is concerned with basic bodily functions as well as measures taken to maintain health. Economic behavior accounts for actions regarding the development, organization, and use of materials as well as other forms of work.


Human behavior is studied by the social sciences, which include psychology, sociology, economics, and anthropology.

Social behavior[edit]

Women bowing in Japan. (c. 1880)

Human social behavior is the behavior that considers other humans, including communication and cooperation. It is highly complex and structured, based on advanced theory of mind that allows humans to attribute thoughts and actions to one another. Through social behavior, humans have developed society and culture distinct from other animals.[3] Human social behavior is governed by a combination of biological factors that affect all humans and cultural factors that change depending on upbringing and societal norms.[4] Human communication is based heavily on language, typically through speech or writing. Nonverbal communication and paralanguage can modify the meaning of communications by demonstrating ideas and intent through physical and vocal behaviors.[5]

Social norms[edit]

Human behavior in a society is governed by social norms. Social norms are unwritten expectations that members of society have for one another. These norms are ingrained in the particular culture that they emerge from, and humans often follow them unconsciously or without deliberation. These norms affect every aspect of life in human society, including decorum, social responsibility, property rights, contractual agreement, morality, justice, and meaning. Many norms facilitate coordination between members of society and prove mutually beneficial, such as norms regarding communication and agreements. Norms are enforced by social pressure, and individuals that violate social norms risk social exclusion.[6]

Systems of ethics are used to guide human behavior to determine what is moral. Humans are distinct from other animals in the use of ethical systems to determine behavior. Ethical behavior is human behavior that takes into consideration how actions will affect others and whether behaviors will be optimal for others. What constitutes ethical behavior is determined by the individual value judgments of the person and the collective social norms regarding right and wrong. Value judgments are intrinsic to people of all cultures, though the specific systems used to evaluate them may vary. These systems may be derived from divine law, natural law, civil authority, reason, or a combination of these and other principles. Altruism is an associated behavior in which humans consider the welfare of others equally or preferentially to their own. While other animals engage in biological altruism, ethical altruism is unique to humans.[7]

Interpersonal relationships[edit]

A family in Noatak, Alaska. (1929)

Interpersonal relationships can be evaluated by the specific choices and emotions between two individuals, or they can be evaluated by the broader societal context of how such a relationship is expected to function. Relationships are developed through communication, which creates intimacy, expresses emotions, and develops identity.[5] An individual's interpersonal relationships form a social group in which individuals all communicate and socialize with one another, and these social groups are connected by additional relationships. Human social behavior is affected not only by individual relationships, but also by how behaviors in one relationship may affect others.[8] Individuals that actively seek out social interactions are extraverts, and those that do not are introverts.[9]

Romantic love is a significant interpersonal attraction toward another. Its nature varies by culture, but it is often contingent on gender, occurring in conjunction with sexual attraction and being either heterosexual or homosexual. It takes different forms and is associated with many individual emotions. Many cultures place a higher emphasis on romantic love than other forms of interpersonal attraction. Marriage is a union between two people, though whether it is associated with romantic love is dependent on the culture.[10] Individuals that are closely related by consanguinity form a family. There are many variations on family structures that may include parents and children as well as stepchildren or extended relatives.[11]

Politics and conflict[edit]

A depiction of men fighting in the First Battle of Komárom. (1849)

When humans make decisions as a group, they engage in politics. Humans have evolved to engage in behaviors of self-interest, but this also includes behaviors that facilitate cooperation rather than conflict in collective settings. Individuals will often form in-group and out-group perceptions, through which individuals cooperate with the in-group and compete with the out-group. This causes behaviors such as unconsciously conforming, passively obeying authority, taking pleasure in the misfortune of opponents, initiating hostility toward out-group members, artificially creating out-groups when none exist, and punishing those that do not comply with the standards of the in-group. These behaviors lead to the creation of political systems that enforce in-group standards and norms.[12]

When humans oppose one another, it creates conflict. It may occur when the involved parties have a disagreement of opinion, when one party obstructs the goals of another, or when parties experience negative emotions such as anger toward one another. Conflicts purely of disagreement are often resolved through communication or negotiation, but incorporation of emotional or obstructive aspects can escalate conflict. Interpersonal conflict is that between specific individuals or groups of individuals.[13] Social conflict is that between different social groups or demographics. This form of conflict often takes place when groups in society are marginalized, do not have the resources they desire, wish to instigate social change, or wish to resist social change. Significant social conflict can cause civil disorder.[14] International conflict is that between nations or governments. It may be solved through diplomacy or war.

Cognitive behavior[edit]

People being taught to paint in Volgograd, Russia. (2013)

Human cognition is distinct from that of other animals. This is derived from biological traits of human cognition, but also from shared knowledge and development passed down culturally. Humans are able to learn from one another due to advanced theory of mind that allows knowledge to be obtained through education. The use of language allows humans to directly pass knowledge to one another.[15][16] The human brain has neuroplasticity, allowing it to modify its features in response to new experiences. This facilitates learning in humans and leads to behaviors of practice, allowing the development of new skills in individual humans.[16]

Creativity is the use of previous ideas or resources to produce something original. It allows for innovation, adaptation to change, learning new information, and novel problem solving. Expression of creativity also supports quality of life. Creativity includes personal creativity, in which a person presents new ideas authentically, but it can also be expanded to social creativity, in which a community or society produces and recognizes ideas collectively.[17] Creativity is applied in typical human life to solve problems as they occur. It also leads humans to carry out art and science. Individuals engaging in advanced creative work typically have specialized knowledge in that field, and humans draw on this knowledge to develop novel ideas. In art, creativity is used to develop new artistic works, such as visual art or music. In science, those with knowledge in a particular scientific field can use trial and error to develop theories that more accurately explain phenomena.[18]

Religious behavior is a set of traditions that are followed based on the teachings of a religious belief system. The nature of religious behavior varies depending on the specific religious traditions. Most religious traditions involve variations of telling myths, practicing rituals, making certain things taboo, adopting symbolism, determining morality, experiencing altered states of consciousness, and believing in supernatural beings. Religious behavior is often demanding and has high time, energy, and material costs, and it conflicts with rational choice models of human behavior, though it does provide community-related benefits. Anthropologists offer competing theories as to why humans adopted religious behavior.[19] Religious behavior is heavily influenced by social factors, and group involvement is significant in the development of an individual's religious behavior. Social structures such as religious organizations or family units allow the sharing and coordination of religious behavior. These social connections reinforce the cognitive behaviors associated with religion, encouraging orthodoxy and commitment.[20] According to a Pew Research Center report, 54% of adults around the world state that religion is very important in their lives as of 2018.[21]

Physiological behavior[edit]

A boy eating in Harare, Zimbabwe. (2017)

Humans undergo many behaviors common to animals to support the processes of the human body. Humans eat food to obtain nutrition. These foods may be chosen for their nutritional value, but they may also be eaten for pleasure. Eating often follows a food preparation process to make it more enjoyable.[22] Humans dispose of excess food through waste. Excrement is often treated as taboo, particularly in developed and urban communities where sanitation is more widely available and excrement has no value as fertilizer.[23] Humans also regularly engage in sleep, based on homeostatic and circadian factors. The circadian rhythm causes humans to require sleep at a regular pattern and is typically calibrated to the day-night cycle and sleep-wake habits. Homeostasis is also be maintained, causing longer sleep longer after periods of sleep deprivation. The human sleep cycle takes place over 90 minutes, and it repeats 3-5 times during normal sleep.[24]

There are also unique behaviors that humans undergo to maintain physical health. Humans have developed medicine to prevent and treat illnesses. In industrialized nations, eating habits that favor better nutrition, hygienic behaviors that promote sanitation, medical treatment to eradicate diseases, and the use of birth control significantly improve human health.[25] Humans can also engage in exercise beyond that required for survival to maintain health.[26]

Economic behavior[edit]

Humans engage in predictable behaviors when considering economic decisions, and these behaviors may or may not be rational. Like all animals, humans make basic decisions through cost–benefit analysis and the risk–return spectrum, though humans are able to contemplate these decisions more thoroughly. Human economic decision making is often reference dependent, in which options are weighed in reference to the status quo rather than absolute gains and losses. Humans are also loss averse, fearing loss rather than seeking gain.[27] Advanced economic behavior developed in humans after the Neolithic Revolution and the development of agriculture. These developments led to a sustainable supply of resources that allowed specialization in more complex societies.[28]


Women tending to farm animals in Mangskogs, Sweden. (1911)

The nature of human work is defined by the complexity of society. The simplest societies are tribes that work primarily for sustenance as hunter-gatherers. In this sense, work is not a distinct activity but a constant that makes up all parts of life, as all members of the society must work consistently to stay alive. More advanced societies developed after the Neolithic Revolution, emphasizing work in agricultural and pastoral settings. In these societies, production is increased, ending the need for constant work and allowing some individuals to specialize and work in areas outside of food-production. This also created non-laborious work, as increasing occupational complexity required some individuals to specialize in technical knowledge and administration.[28] Laborious work in these societies has variously been carried out by slaves, serfs, peasants, and guild craftsmen. The nature of work changed significantly during the Industrial Revolution in which the factory system was developed for use by industrializing nations. In addition to further increasing general quality of life, this development changed the dynamic of work. Under the factory system, workers increasingly collaborate with others, employers serve as authority figures during work hours, and forced labor is largely eradicated. Further changes occur in post-industrial societies where technological advance makes industries obsolete, replacing them with mass production and service industries.[29]

Humans approach work differently based on both physical and personal attributes, and some work with more effectiveness and commitment than others. Some find work to contribute to personal fulfillment, while others work only out of necessity.[30] Work can also serve as an identity, with individuals identifying themselves based on their occupation. Work motivation is complex, both contributing to and subtracting from various human needs. The primary motivation for work is for material gain, which takes the form of money in modern societies. It may also serve to create self-esteem and personal worth, provide activity, gain respect, and express creativity.[31] Modern work is typically categorized as laborious or blue-collar work and non-laborious or white-collar work.[32]


Men playing association football in Kilkenny, Ireland. (2007)

Leisure is activity or lack of activity that takes place outside of work. It provides relaxation, entertainment, and improved quality of life for individuals. Casual leisure behaviors provide short-term gratification, but they do not provide long-term gratification or personal identity. These include play, relaxation, casual social interaction, volunteering, passive entertainment, active entertainment, and sensory stimulation. Passive entertainment is typically derived from mass media, which may include written works or digital media. Active entertainment involves games in which individuals participate. Sensory stimulation is immediate gratification from behaviors such as eating or sex.[33] Serious leisure behaviors involve non-professional pursuit of arts and sciences, the development of hobbies, or career volunteering in an area of expertise.[34] Leisure can be beneficial for physical and mental health. It may be used to seek temporary relief from psychological stress, to produce positive emotions, or to facilitate social interaction. Leisure can also facilitate health risks and negative emotions caused by boredom, substance abuse, or high-risk behavior.[35]


Humans operate as consumers that obtain and use goods. All production is ultimately designed for consumption, and consumers adapt their behavior based on the availability of production. Mass consumption began during the Industrial Revolution, caused by the development of new technologies that allowed for increased production.[36] Many factors affect a consumer's decision to purchase goods through trade. They may consider the nature of the product, its associated cost, the convenience of purchase, and the nature of advertising around the product. Cultural factors may influence this decision, as different cultures value different things, and subcultures within these cultures may have distinct priorities as buyers. Social class, including wealth, education, and occupation may affect one's purchasing behavior. A consumer's interpersonal relationships and reference groups may also influence purchasing behavior.[37]


Human behavior is influenced by biological and cultural elements. The structure and agency debate considers whether human behavior is predominantly led by individual human impulses or by external structural forces.[36] Behavioral genetics considers how human behavior is affected by inherited traits. Though genes do not guarantee certain behaviors, certain traits can be inherited that make individuals more likely to engage in certain behaviors or express certain personalities.[38] An individual's environment can also affect behavior, often in conjunction with genetic factors. An individual's personality and attitudes affect how behaviors are expressed, formed in conjunction by genetic and environmental factors.[39] While specific traits of one's personality, temperament, and genetics may be more consistent, other behaviors change as one moves between life stages—i.e., from birth through adolescence, adulthood, and, for example, parenthood and retirement.[1]

See also[edit]


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