How to Understand Human Behavior | 3 Types of Human Behavior

In this guide you will learn How to Understand Human Behavior, and how we all function.

Behavior analysis is a well-established method for understanding ourselves, our own behavior, and how our behavior is affected by various scenarios.

The goal of behavior analysis is to provide you with a tool that can be used to observe yourself and your behavior in situations as and they occur.

This tool will also prove to be useful for your ongoing work problem-solving when you try to modify unwanted behaviors. It can also lead you to new ways of thinking about why you act the way you do in certain situations.

Learning how to become a proficient behavior analyst is a good investment of effort, both in terms of increasing your self-awareness and producing greater results.

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How to Understand Human Behavior
How to Understand Human Behavior

Before you learn about why you act the way you do in certain situations, it is useful to understand that all human behavior is learned. The positive thing about this is that learned behavior can be relearned! We continuously learn throughout our lives, as we encounter new situations and environments.

Let’s start from the beginning by using a simple example: The first time you heard the sound of an SMS, your reaction was not the same as it is today. The sound was “neutral” – that is, it was not associated with a text.

You are better-informed now – when you hear your text signal, you probably get curious. The SMS signal is now associated with a message. You react when you hear the sound of an incoming text. You don’t control this reaction – it’s a reflex.

Today, when you hear your SMS signal you also do something. You act by, for example, getting your phone out to read the message. The behavior, however, is controlled by you. What you decide to do in such situations depends on what consequences your actions had in previous situations, which is why this type of learning has been labeled ‘consequential learning’.

If you received interesting texts in the past, the probability of you reading a text the next time your SMS signal goes off increases. On the other hand, if you’re expecting a nagging text from a colleague, or a text from a friend asking you to do something boring, you might choose not to read the text, or at least to wait a while before reading it.

This learning principle is applicable to all behaviors and vital in How to Understand Human Behavior!

Behavior Analysis: As Easy As ABC

A behavior analysis includes three steps: A, B, and C.

A stands for ‘Antecedents’, B for ‘Behavior’, and C for ‘Consequences’. In the example above, A was represented by the SMS signal, and B was represented by reading or not reading the text.

When using the behavior analysis tool it is important to identify the resulting behavior (B) and what antecedents (A) increase the probability that a certain behavior (B) will occur, in addition to identifying what consequences (C) will follow from certain behavior.

1. Behavior (B)

Identify problematic behavior. Problematic behavior is a behavior you often do that you would like to change. Try to describe the behavior in as much detail as possible.

Example: Buying a post-lunch chocolate bar today…again! Drinking that extra pint in the pub. Dwelling on something negative that has already happened and that you can’t change. Getting angry with an annoying colleague…again!

2. Antecedents (A)

Try to identify the antecedent of problematic behavior. What may have prompted the behavior? Include specific details about the situation. Who was present just before the behavior was elicited? Where did it occur? What objects were present? What were you thinking? Try to identify those antecedents that increase the likelihood of you ‘making the wrong decision’. These may, for example, include tiredness, hunger, or anger.

3. Consequences (C)

All behavior has consequences. According to behavior therapy, those consequences that your brain interprets as good ones are called ‘rewards’, whereas those that are interpreted as bad are called ‘punishments’.

The receipt of a reward increases the probability that you will repeat behavior, whereas a punishment increases the probability that you won’t repeat a behavior in the future.

There are both short-term and long-term consequences. It’s important to be aware of the fact that short-term consequences are more powerful than long-term ones since it’s easier for the brain to pair a specific behavior with short-term consequences.

For example, if you place your hand on a hot stove, you will receive a direct punishment in terms of the pain experienced, i.e. a short-term consequence. Your brain will, without effort, understand that the hot stove caused the pain on your palm.

How to Understand Human Behavior
How to Understand Human Behavior

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Wayne Dyer

Exercise: What Am I Doing?

Identify a behavior that you do on a regular basis – Good or Bad.

  • What increases the probability of you doing this behavior?
  • What consequences follow from the behavior? Take note of both rewarding and punishing consequences.
  • What consequences occur directly following the behavior (short-term) and what consequences occur a while after (long-term)? You will likely discover that many of your routine behaviors are motivated by short-term consequences.

Do an A-B-C behavior analysis.

The aim of this exercise is to increase your understanding of why you behave in certain ways.

You will learn to identify what antecedents increase the probability of certain behaviors occurring, in addition to the long-term and short-term consequences that follow from your behaviors.

You will likely discover that many of your routine behaviors are motivated by short-term consequences.

Exercise: Not So Probable

Identify a behavior that you would like to do less, that is, a problem behavior. Make a list of the antecedents that increase the probability of you doing the behavior (A) and choose one item from your list that you would like to change in order to remove it from your antecedents list.

Remove one antecedent that increases the likelihood of you performing a problem behavior. The aim of this exercise is to decrease the probability of performing your problem behavior.

Exercise: Goal Behavior

The time has arrived to try something new! Think of behavior you would like to do more often…Let’s call it a ‘Goal Behavior’. Start by making a note of the behavior (B), followed by what antecedents are associated with the occurrence of the behavior (A), and finally, what long-term and short-term consequences you believe are associated with the behavior.

You wish to increase the probability of acting in a certain way. What is the most efficient way of making this happen? That’s right! Make sure that the right antecedents (A) and short-term rewards (C) are present prior to and after the behavior has occurred! The aim of this exercise is to add antecedents that will increase the probability of the goal behavior’s occurrence.

One example is bringing your running shoes to work if you would like to increase the probability of going out for a run before having lunch. Another example is to eat some nuts before the 11 o’clock meeting in order to increase the probability that you will stay during the meeting.

These examples are simple, but remember that your own creativity is the only thing limiting what antecedents you can add to help take you where you want to go in life.

The aim of this exercise is to increase the probability of your behaving in a way that is good for you, which you have chosen for yourself.

Exercise: I’m Worth It!

Now that you’ve made your way through the behavior analysis and have taken the first step towards positive behavior change, you deserve a reward! Make sure that it’s a short-term reward since these are primarily responsible for controlling your behaviors, right?

An example might be to treat yourself to a delicious piece of chocolate (perhaps even a slightly more expensive kind than usual) after completing an undesirable task, like clearing your desk. Another example could be treating yourself to an extra foamy, hot bubble bath after having completed a long walk (if you don’t complete the walk, you are only allowed to take a shower).

Another example is to allow yourself to play your favorite phone game for 5 minutes after 30 minutes of focused, uninterrupted work. You know best what rewards you enjoy, so it will be easy for you to choose what to treat will motivate you the most.

The aim of this exercise is to reinforce the behaviors you would like to do more often.

Summary: How to Understand Human Behavior

To understand one’s behaviors is to understand oneself. Having knowledge about behaviors provides you with a tool that can be used to control your behaviors, rather than letting your behaviors control you.

To initiate, modify, or quit a particular behavior, it’s important to first analyze its underlying mechanisms. This can be done in a behavior analysis where:

  • A represents Antecedents
  • B represents Behavior
  • C represents Consequences

Start by choosing a behavior, B. Then, identify the antecedents increases the probability of the occurrence of B. Finally, analyze the consequences, C. Consequences can be divided into short-term and long-term consequences.

Your brain finds it easier to pair a behavior with its short-term consequences than with its long-term consequences – Therefore, short-term consequences primarily control your behavior.

How did you like this article on “How to understand Human Behavior“? Tell us in the comment below.

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