What you need to know about Human Behavior

What you need to know about Human Behavior

Understanding human behavior is not so easy. Academic and commercial researchers are aiming towards having a deeper understanding of how humans act, make decisions, plan, and memorize things.

Actions, Cognitions, & Emotions

In scientific research, human behavior is the complicated interpretation of three elements, i.e., actions, cognition, and emotions.

Actions are behavior

Action means everything which can be observed, either with bare eyes or measured by physiological sensors. It is an initiation or transition from one state to another state. Even the subtle bodily changes on a sub-second basis that are not conscious to us can be interpreted as behavior.

Cognitions are behavior

Cognitions are thoughts and mental images that a person carries with himself, and that thoughts and mental images can be both verbal and nonverbal. Cognitions extend beyond the languages we speak, it is all about mental visualisations and mental pictures we carry with ourselves. It allows us to create entirely new things just from our mind to fantasise about potential future, to invent and imagine the world that doesn’t exist.

Emotions are behavior

Action means everything which can be observed, either with bare eyes or measured by physiological sensors. It is an initiation or transition from one state to another state. Even the subtle bodily changes on a sub-second basis that are not conscious to us can be interpreted as behavior.

Actions, Cognitions, and Emotions cannot run independently from each other. Generally, the sequence of cause and effect for this is action, emotion and then cognition. Hence, if we want to understand human behavior in a better way, we should examine the bodily processes, emotions, and cognition.

Operant conditioning

The concept of operant conditioning is coined by B.F. Skinner. It is also known as instrumental conditioning. It denotes a type of learning in which the strength of a behavior is modified by the consequences, i.e. reward or punishment, signal via the preceding stimuli. In both, classical conditional and operant conditioning, the behavior is controlled by environmental stimuli; however, both of these differ in nature.

In the case of operant conditioning, the behavior is controlled by stimuli that are present when a behavior is rewarded or punished. B.F. Skinner believed that it is not really important to look at internal thoughts and motivations in order to explain the behavior, instead, he suggested to only taking external, observable causes of human behavior into consideration.

Some of the key concepts of operant conditioning are given below:

1. Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement occurs when human behavior is rewarding, increasing the frequency of that behavior.

2. Negative reinforcement

Negative reinforcement occurs when the behavior is followed by the removal of an aversive stimulus, increasing the frequency of the behavior.

3. Punishment

It occurs when the behavior is followed by an aversive stimulus, which is causing a decrease in that behavior.

4. Penalty

It occurs when the behavior is followed by the removal of a rewarding stimulus.

5. Extinction

It occurs when the behavior that had previously been reinforced is no longer effective.

Social Learning

The theory of Social Learning was introduced by Albert Bandura in the year 1977 to emphasize that human beings learn through observing other peoples’ behavior, attitude, and outcomes of those behaviors. Most human behavior is learned observationally through modelling.

Let say, children pay attention to adult models and encode their behaviors. And, at the later stage, they may imitate the behavior they have observed. Here are some necessary conditions for effective modeling according to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory:

1. Attention

Attention is modulated by different factors, which include distinctiveness, affective valence, complexity, prevalence, and functional value. Our intrinsic characteristics such as arousal level, sensory capacity, perceptual set, and past reinforcement certainly affect our attention.

2. Retention

It denotes how well we remember the things we paid attention to. Retention includes symbolic coding, cognitive organization, mental images, symbolic rehearsal, and motor rehearsal.

3. Reproduction

It includes physical capabilities along with self-observation of reproduction.

4. Motivation

It comprises of past, present and vicarious motives. If the vicarious reinforcement in the observer is not seen to be important, human behavior will not be imitated.

Decision-making: Decisions and Behavior

Human behavior is acquired through learning and whether the individual actually decides to execute an action or withhold a certain behavior is dependent on the associated benefits, incentives, and risks in that situation.

According to the Prospect Theory, humans decide or choose based on the risk associated. The theory believes that decisions are taken based on the probability of potential gains and losses as opposed to the overall outcome, the risks are assessed using heuristics.

According to Kahneman & Tversky, most of the human errors come from erroneous heuristic-based thinking. They also said that the human being undervalues outcome results that are merely probabilistic in comparison to results that are obtained with certainty and that people normally disregard elements that are shared by all prospects under consideration.

System 1 & System 2

The theory of Kahneman was also concerned about how a human being process the information in his brain. Kahneman proposed that there are two systems which determine how human make decisions: System 1 & System 2.

System 1 is fast but relatively inaccurate. While System 2 is slow but more accurate.

The theory of Kahneman suggests that our day to day decisions are carried out in one of these two ways. It could be any type of decision, including making career choices, buying morning tea, etc. The human being uses different approaches depending on the circumstances.

We should be more likely to be using the slow, but reliable process of System 2 when making big decisions like career decisions, investment decisions, business decisions, etc. On the other side, our routine decisions are more likely to engage our System 1 thinking.

System 1:

  • Fast
  • Automatic
  • Unconscious
  • Error-prone
  • Routine decisions

System 2:

  • Slow
  • Effortful
  • Conscious
  • Reliable
  • Complex decisions

Biometric Sensors to Measure Human Behavior

We can use biometric sensors and measurements in order to understand how our mind, brain, and body interact. Let’s understand different biometric sensors and measurements that are used in order to measure human behavior:

1. Eye Tracking

Eye tracking offers incredible insights into visual attention beyond any experimental technique. Eye-tracking is used to monitor where we direct our eye movements at a certain point of time and it also tracks dilation of the pupil. We may face changes in pupil dilation whenever the brightness of the stimulus material changes.

2. EEG

EEG is a neuro-imaging technique that measures electrical activity measured by the brain from the scalp surface through the use of electrodes and amplifier systems. The technique is ideal for assessing brain activity associated with perception, cognition and emotional processes.

3. fNIRS

fNIRS records the diffusion of near-infrared light by human skull scalp and brain tissue, which allows researchers to monitor cerebral blood flow in specified brain regions. This tool has proved to be very promising in human behavior research.

4. fMRI

To examine dynamic changes in the human brain, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging can be used. The scanner uses magnetic fields and radio frequencies to measure changes in oxygenated and deoxygenated blood flow in specific regions of the brain that can be related to cognitive processes.


Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) also referred to as Electrodermal activity (EDA), reflects the amount of sweat secretion from sweat glands in our skin. The increased sweating results in high skin conductivity. The GSR measurements can be proceeded with lightweight and mobile sensors, which makes acquisition very easy.

6. Facial expressions

Facial expression analysis is the non-intrusive process that assesses head position and orientation, micro-expressions and global facial expressions of basic emotions through a webcam placed in front of the respondent. The facial data becomes very helpful to validate metrics of engagement, workload or drowsiness.

7. EMG

EMG sensors monitor the electrical energy generated by the human being through the bodily movements of the face, hands or fingers, etc. We can use EMG to monitor muscular responses to any kind of stimulus material for the purpose of extracting even subtle activation patterns associated with consciously controlled movements of hand/fingers.


We can track heart rate, and pulse rate from ECG electrodes or optical sensors (PPG). The purpose of using ECG or PPG is to get insights into respondents’ physical state, anxiety, and stress levels and how changes in the physiological state related to their actions and decisions.

To understand human behavior precisely, researchers conduct different type of researches and see how a human take actions and react in particular situations. Here, we have discussed actions, emotions, cognitions, operant conditioning, social learning, and its theories, how decision making works, and different biometric sensors to measure human behavior.

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