The behavorial sciences are areas of research and practice with scientific underpinnings that focus on the actions and functioning of human beings, both as individuals and in groups. The behavioral sciences may look at emotion, perception, language development, social and family groups, customs, learning and a host of other human functions. Psychology, sociology and anthropology are among the most commonly studied behavioral sciences, but each of these disciplines can be broken down into sub-disciplines. Social work and public health are often considered to be among the behavioral sciences, with their focus on human health.
A Focus on Individual Behavior
Psychology often focuses on behavior at the individual level, and psychology as a behavioral science can delve not only into such areas as anxiety and depression but also developmental disabilities, cognition, emotion and other human functions that can impact the individual's ability to maintain equilibrium in day-to-day living. The study of psychology aims to grasp the underlying causes of certain behaviors and illnesses with the goal of treatment that improves the individual's overall health and well being.
Looking at Social Group Behavior
Because the need for social interaction is inherent in human beings, sociology as a behavioral science looks at social groups, how individuals interact with each other and how groups behave. Unlike psychology, which looks more at causes underlying individuals' behaviors, sociology looks at the behaviors themselves, particularly as they relate to human social lives. Such studies can cut across cultures to show that social behavior is often not learned but part of the experience of being human.
Different Cultures and Times
Like sociology, anthropology studies groups of human beings and their behaviors, but it looks more broadly at characteristics of groups across cultures and time periods and even compares humans with different species, such as others in the primate family. Anthropology as a field has a few sub-disciplines: archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. Each of these subfields has a slightly different focus from the others but all share similar research methods and are based in theory.
Some behavioral sciences direct their gaze specifically at health behaviors of groups or individuals and are geared to support and improve human health. Public health professionals may look at unhealthy behaviors within a community -- such as tobacco use, alcoholism and unprotected sexual activity -- and through education and programming strive to diminish the negative effects of such activities. Social workers also address behaviors that affect health within social groups -- such as domestic violence -- but may be more likely to work with families or other small, defined groups than at a community level.
- ExploreHealthCareers.org: Behavioral Science/Health Education
- National Institutes of Health: Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSSR) Definition
- CSUN: College of Social and Behavioral Sciences: Department of Social Work
- American Sociological Association: What Is Sociology?
- American Anthropological Association: This Is Anthropology: What Is Anthropology?
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