What is it about?

Behaviour is pervasive in everyday life. But what is it actually? In research, behaviour is hardly ever defined and yet it is widely studied. This article considers the perspectives different disciplines have on behaviour and works out a definition of behaviour that allows to distinguish behaviour from psyche. The concepts presented highlight fascinating aspects of human language. They show that language is different from behaviour but always involves some behaviours as well. The concepts also help define when the what-is-being-said is an element of interpersonal behaviour and when it is not. The analyses show the ways in which language meaningfully extends humans' behavioural possibilities, pushing them far beyond anything enabled by non-language behaviours. The article contributes a novel piece of theoretical explanation of the important role that language has played in human evolution.

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Why is it important?

Early psychologists focussed only on individuals’ observable actions, ignoring the mind. Cognitive psychologists did the opposite and focussed only on the mind, but ignoring behaviour. Contemporary psychologists tend to avoid the debates that ensued from behaviourism and cognitivism by simply mixing inner and outer and broadly labelling both as ‘behaviour’. But this conceptual blending ignores essential differences that are important to unravel how mind and behaviour actually function together.


Psychologists should overcome the dividing lines set up by behaviourism and cognitivism and develop useful definitions and distinctions that help us explore how mind and behaviour go together.

Dr Jana Uher
University of Greenwich

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This page is a summary of: What is Behaviour? And (when) is Language Behaviour? A Metatheoretical Definition, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, February 2016, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/jtsb.12104.
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