Behavior refers to the manner in which an organism responds to specific internal or external stimuli; it may be overt or covert, conscious or subconscious, and voluntary or involuntary. One’s behavior is generally considered to be good, bad, or neutral.
What Is Behavior?
Behavior is the unifying concept for all subfields of psychology. Typically, action—which may be emotional, social, or physical—is required in order to maintain the current state of affairs or to elicit change.
There are many factors that may have an influence on behavior:
- The identity of the person producing the behavior
- The circumstances the person wants to bring about
- Knowledge of what is permissible
- Skill, competency, or know-how
- The procedure involved
- The outcome (which may or may not coincide with the circumstances the person wants to bring about)
- Personality traits
- The significance of the behavior.
Many researchers believe that genetics and the surrounding environment also play major roles in the development and expression of behavior.
Behavior and Mental Health
Behavior is often a major indicator of mental health, and a person’s behavior may be heavily influenced by physiological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors. A state of good mental health is often associated with behaviors that are functional, productive, positive, and beneficial to the individual.
In contrast, when one’s mental health is negatively affected by some factor, this can result in behavior often considered to be negative, maladaptive, or even harmful to the person experiencing mental health concerns. People of all ages may be affected by temporary behavioral issues; however, these issues may be especially noticeable during childhood and adolescence. The presence of temporary maladaptive behaviors can indicate the child or teen may benefit from in dealing with stressful stimuli.
Common behavioral issues that might affect young people include:
- Threatening behavior toward pets, other individuals, or the self
- Acts of vandalism
- Regular tantrums or arguments
- Hostile behavior toward those in authority
- Persistent or compulsive lying
- Lack of effort in academic pursuits
- Smoking, drinking, and/or illicit drug use at an early age
- Sexual activity at an early age
Children experiencing behavioral concerns may have an increased risk for mental health concerns such as:
Behavior and Therapy
Today, there are a number of types of therapy that can help individuals who wish to adapt or modify certain aspects of their behavior. Many people who find their own behavior to be negative, counterproductive, or harmful in some way may obtain benefit from exploring the behavior and its potential causes with a qualified mental health professional.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one type of treatment that is known to be effective at treating a variety of mental health concerns. CBT helps individuals in therapy think and behave in a more positive manner. The approach assumes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected and works to help people in therapy gradually change negative thought patterns in order to begin to feel better and react more constructively to stressful situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be completed in a relatively short period of time. A typical session, usually held weekly or biweekly, lasts for 30-60 minutes, and generally individuals participate in 5-20 sessions.
Underserved Behavioral Health Needs
Unmet mental and behavioral health needs for youth in foster care and for elderly Americans are two of the most pressing health care concerns in the United States today.
Many mental health professionals believe the consistent presence of at least one nurturing parent or caregiver is crucial to good behavioral health in children and teenagers. It is generally believed youth have more of an opportunity to thrive when reasonable routines, structure, and expectations are in place in daily life and when caregivers display love and support. Young people in foster care are more likely to have experienced traumatic events in their life, and the stress of handling major transitions, coping with loss or separation, and dealing with general uncertainty may have a significant negative impact on overall mental health. However, those in foster care are often less likely to receive needed mental health care due to frequent transitions, lack of consent, and insurance issues, all of which may severely restrict access to care.
There is also an ever-increasing need for mental health services for older Americans. Behavioral health concerns affecting this population include anxiety, alcohol misuse, depression, suicide, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. According to the American Psychological Association, only about 4% of all psychologists specialize in geropsychology, the branch of psychology focusing on the aging process and clinical care for mature adults. Only 39% of all psychologists report rendering clinical services each week to people 65 and older.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (n.d.). Mental and behavioral health. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/healthy-foster-care-america/Pages/Mental-and-Behavioral-Health.aspx
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Mental and behavioral health and older americans. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/aging/mental-health.aspx
- Bergner, R. M. (2011). What is behavior? And so what? New Ideas in Psychology, 29, 147-155. doi:10.1016/j.newideapsych.2010.08.001. Retrieved from http://www.sdp.org/publications/papers/WhatIsBehavior.pdf
- Medline Plus. (n.d.). Child behavior disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/childbehaviordisorders.html
- National Health Service. (2014). Cognitive behavioural therapy (cbt). retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Last Updated: 12-1-2015
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