Friday, August 16, 2013

What Is Behavioral Science?

What Is Behavioral Science?
Behavioral Science is an inter-disciplinary field informed by concepts from anthropology, psychology, and sociology. This is what makes behavioral science so much fun!

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Behavioral Science as a branch of science (as psychology, sociology, or anthropology) that deals primarily with human action and often seeks to generalize about human behavior in society
behavioral scientist noun"

First Known Use of BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE 1951
(Merriam-Webster Dictionary, n.d., retrieved 08/16/2013 from

Much of the interest in behavioral science came from experimental psychology. The early 1950's was the time when behaviorism in psychology experiments became popular. Experimental psychologists conducted animal experiments that focused on controlling behaviors with the reward and punishment methods. However, subsequent decades in studies of human behavior has contributed additional knowledge about how humans respond or react to stimuli or phenomena. This additional knowledge has focused on understanding how social forces influence human behavior, along with contributions from cognitive science which offers that human beings have a rational mind, and that language, thought, and emotions are intertwined with human action. 

As Behavioral Scientists study social phenomena, they are not bound by just one perspective alone-- they can view social problems through different lenses. For example, if working class women were studied from a psychological perspective, one could examine their self-esteem as it relates to the low-wage jobs they perform. Studying working class women from an anthropological perspective could focus on their work or peers and how they socialize and support themselves in work groups. Studying working class women from a sociological perspective could examine how social forces influence what low-wage work working class women perform, or how working class women survive. 

The focus of behavioral science is on studying and understanding human action. Understanding human behavior and what and how social forces shape human behavior in society helps behavioral scientists analyze and recommend strategies to build healthy, sustainable, resilient communities.

When you teach in the Behavioral Science Program, it is a good idea to discuss with students what behavioral science is, and how its orientation examines social action. 

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