Two Basic Kinds of Behavior-2

Two Basic Kinds of Behavior-2

In my first blog about “Two Basic Kinds of Behavior”, I presented the following simple truth (spelled with a very small “t”. This is because science has a way of generating new conflicting truths (also spelled with a small “t”). As far as I know, there are still just two kinds of behavior. At least, this has been the common convention within the field of  Behavioral Psychology.

Behavioral psychology normally breaks actual observable responses/behaviors (observed in some empirical, i.e., measurable fashion) into classes of responses/behaviors that are learned through consequences and those learned via stimulus associations. The first class of behaviors are called Operants and the second class of behaviors are called Respondents.

I briefly explained these two basic classes of behavior in my first blog on this topic. You may wish to review it below. I believe this explanation is technically accurate, however it is an great over-simplification of the vast subject matter on this topic.

While I was a professor at Indiana University South Bend, I encountered introductory-level students who found it difficult to understand how the great complexity of human behavior could possibly be accounted for by only two classes of behavior.

I assured these students that my advanced classes about behavioral psychology would reveal a large number of  other biological, psychological factors and principles that can interact in complex ways with Operant and Respondent behaviors to form the stunning variety of human perceptions, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors that are observed around the world.

Part of my answer to introductory level students was to note that there are only 118 elements in the periodic, table of known elements, and only a portion of these elements combine in ways to make-up all earthly matter. Some have recently indicated there are 119 elements, with perhaps more yet to be discovered. It seems remarkable the so few elements could combine to make-up all matter in our world.

In comparison, recent discoveries by neuroscience have exponentially increased the complexity of the interacting determinants of Operant and Respondent behavior to unimaginable levels.

For many years, we have learned that computers contain bytes of information configured in 0’s and 1’s. Formerly, it was also though that something similar was operational in the way that the human brains store and utilize what they have learned throughout their lives.

The article at the end of this blog provides evidence that this “binary code in the brain” is an immense over-simplification. It is now estimated that our brains use at least 26 different codes to store what we learn. Even more astonishing is the estimate that the human brain is capable of storing as much information as is stored on the entire Internet.

The internet is estimated to contain about one petabyte, or about a quadrillion bytes of information.

Without question, our life-time histories of stored bytes of learned information and their hundreds of millions of  interconnections, powerfully interact to effect our perceptions, beliefs, emotions and behaviors.

Therefore, these hundreds of millions of interconnections made manifest through only two classes of behavior would appear even more complex than the combining of elements that account for all earthly matter.

This perception may help us to understand why the study of human behavior has lagged so far behind the progress made in other sciences. 

The science of human behavior must “soldier-on”, however, because the behaviors of  the human species remain its own worst enemy.

Please consider the following:

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.

Indiana Health Services Provider in Psychology

Professor Emeritus of Psychology Indiana University South Bend


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