What Is Psychological Behavior?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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There are many different theories that try to explain why it is that humans behave the way they do and why people differ in the types of behaviors they exhibit. Psychological behavior is the group of theories that looks at behavior from a psychological perspective. Also called behavioral psychology, this methodology focuses not just on how the mind plays a role in behavior, but also on the roles that social, environmental, and physiological aspects have in influencing the mind. Some people in history who have contributed known theories include Erikson, Freud, and Maslow.

Erik Erikson theorized that human development occurs in eight stages from infancy through adulthood. In each of these stages, there are challenges a person must master, such as trust and ego-identity developments. If one stage cannot be mastered, Erikson theorized that the stage to follow would suffer, similar to a ripple effect. The result would be an identity crisis that can lead to abnormal psychological health and abnormal psychological behavior. When each stage is mastered, a person functions and behaves normally.


Sigmund Freud has influenced the psychological community and knowledge of psychological behavior with his theories on human behavior. Freud theorized that human development is completely dependent on successful development of all three parts of the subconscious. The id, ego, and superego determine how a person will behave. Proper development of these parts occurs in stages throughout a lifetime, which is the same concept that fueled Erikson’s theories. Failure to master a stage causes an issue with personality development and can lead to behavioral problems.

Abraham Maslow and Burrhus Skinner both theorized that psychological behavior is learned. Skinner’s theory suggests that humans learn from positive and negative confirmation of their actions. Maslow’s theory suggests that behavior is based on a person’s needs, such as food and social interaction.

Regardless of which theory is chosen as a guide, psychological behavior is not something that can typically be overlooked. Abnormal behavior varies depending on each person; any behavior that seems wrong, such as setting things on fire or committing crimes, is deemed as abnormal, but the term can also be used to describe actions that are not typically what a person has been previously known to do. The presence of a disorder, such as kleptomania or a phobia, can often cause abnormal behaviors associated as symptoms of the disorder. Kleptomaniacs, for example, feel the need to steal things without any logical reason. When abnormal behaviors occur, the common course of action is to use psychological counseling to determine the cause, particularly if a psychological disorder is suspected.


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