Two Basic Kinds of Behavior
There are only two kinds of behavior in humans and other animals.
One kind of behavior is called Operant Behavior because it “operates”, or acts, upon the environment. Most important, operant behavior is controlled by its consequences. Consequences are said to “control” our behavior because they increase (strengthen) or decrease (weaken) the future frequency of the behaviors they follow.
Consequences influence our operant behavior probabilistically, but not absolutely. For example, a child who is praised for helping with a chore, is more likely to help others in the future. A child who is allowed to push another child down and take their toy, is more likely to be aggressive to others in the future.
The only other kind of behavior is Respondent Behavior. The word respondent means that these behaviors are reflexive responses to specific stimuli. Common examples of our respondent behavior are being startled by a loud noise, snapping our hand away from a hot flame, or salivating when we put food in our mouths.
As you will see, these two apparently simple kinds of behavior, and the ways they can be learned, are of huge importance to the lives of fellow citizens and to our socioculture.
V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D. 4/20/10