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What is Behavioral Science?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Behavioral science is concerned with the study of human and animal behavior. Scientists in this field looks at individuals and their behavior along with the behavior of societies, groups, and cultures, as well as processes that can contribute to specific behaviors. There is a great deal of overlap between this field and the social sciences, which can sometimes lead to confusion. The social sciences tend to focus more on structural systems and cultures, while behavioral science tends to look at the reactions within and between organisms that dictate behavioral trends.

Tools for Research

Researchers in the field of behavioral science use a number of tools to gather data. Observation of individuals and groups is one of the most powerful methods available, as it lets researchers visibly see behavior and interaction. Many researchers also use controlled, ethical experiments, which are designed to push the boundaries of normal behavior and to explore the motivations behind actions. Care must be taken, however, to ensure no person or animal is harmed during such research.

Crossover with Other Disciplines

Research in this field can include many social sciences in its approach, such as psychology and anthropology. Some researchers utilize "harder" sciences like neurology, chemistry, and even things like geology, as people may be interested in how environment informs behavior, in their work. Many of these researchers have a multidisciplinary background in different fields that come together in behavior studies.

Results of Research

Behavioral scientists use information gleaned during their work in a variety of ways. Zoological parks and breeding programs, for example, often rely heavily on behavioral science to match their animals appropriately, and to develop environments which allow animals to live as naturally as possible. Advertisers study this field keenly to learn what makes people buy products, and how buying patterns develop. Even work in politics and law enforcement has been influenced by behavioral research, as leaders and police officers learn to motivate and predict actions based on behavior patterns.

Studies of human, animal, and even plant behavior have resulted in a wide range of results, some of which have very serious implications. For example, workers in public health fields have learned to integrate behavioral science into their practice to promote healthy behaviors and encourage people to access health care. Psychologists and other mental health professionals may also incorporate behavioral science into their treatment of patients. If someone seeks cognitive behavioral therapy for treatment of a phobia, for instance, he or she often receives treatment designed with the findings of behavioral science in mind.

Careers in Behavioral Research

People interested in human and animal behavior might find a career in behavioral science rewarding. The work requires patience and a fine eye for detail since much of it involves observation and long-term study of subjects. Communication skills are also valuable, as is a background in various sciences. Neurology and biology figure heavily in this field, for example, along with topics like ethnology, psychobiology, and studies of fields like social networking, behavioral economics, and memetics.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By GlassAxe — On Jul 13, 2010

@ Anon90976- That sounds like a very proactive approach to medicine. It reminds me of how some drug treatment programs work. I used to work and volunteer at a youth center that catered to at risk teens. We worked closely with the local behavioral medicine office. We were only responsible for offering resources for addiction treatment, and providing a safe environment for teens with the aims of preventing drug abuse. However, behavioral medicine combined rehabilitation, therapy, and prescription drug treatment to help those addicted to heroin, Oxycontin, and other drugs (the area I lived in had a high rate of addiction to opiates).

This was often the last chance for many before long prison terms or death. Not everyone was successful at staying clean though, but this mixed approach was more successful at treating addicts than the previous system of going to jail or being admitted to the state hospital.

By anon90976 — On Jun 19, 2010

I am Dr Md Shahidullah, specialist in community medicine working as a community physician for 12 years in my locality with the integration of behavioral sciences in my treatment modality which brings tremendous impact in the success stories of my treatment pattern.

During my practice period, I observed due to prolonged illness or morbid condition, there are some behavioral changes which should be equally considered for permanent cure of the prevailing morbid conditions.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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