It’s no exaggeration to say that we are complex beings, therefore, understanding human behavior is, in itself, complicated.
Human beings are products of all kinds of influences. Genes, environment, culture, and, of course, our upbringing. We actively process and interact with an ever-changing world around us. As we endeavor to navigate through this world, we adapt and learn certain behaviors in order to survive. So how can we explain why we do the things we do? Thankfully, science has the key to understanding human behavior.
4 Scientific Examples That Can Help Us with Understanding Human Behavior
1. Why we credit success to ourselves but blame others when we have failed
So that we can make sense of the world, events have to have some cause or meaning behind them. This helps us to understand what’s going on. As such, we tend to attribute this cause when it comes to our behavior.
This is Attribution Theory.
There are two types of attribution:
- Internal Attribution – where we assign causes to internal factors (ourselves)
- External Attribution – in which we assign causes to external factors (others)
When we have succeeded, we are more likely to use internal attribution, believing that we are responsible for the win. On the other hand, if we fail or make a mistake, we’ll prefer to use external attribution. In other words, it wasn’t our fault, factors outside our control were to blame.
So why do we do this? One of the reasons is because we all want to be seen in a good light. We don’t want to acknowledge that failure is down to our own mistakes. Another theory is that by using attributions, we are protecting ourselves. If we can blame others, we avoid punishment or recriminations.
However, research shows that we don’t do ourselves any favors by these self-serving attributions. One particular study discovered that athletes with more experience tended to make less self-serving attributions. This allowed them to focus more on the real causes that were holding them back. By doing this, they improved their performance.
This is one theory where understanding human behavior can help us improve.
2. Why we automatically believe what we see, hear and read
We all have free will right? In addition, we are undoubtedly the most intelligent creatures on the planet. It is likely then that before we make a judgment on a situation, we have weighed up all the pros and cons. We question everything before us.
Actually no. In fact, the opposite is true. Instead, we automatically believe whatever is put in front of us. And you know that old saying – ‘seeing is believing’? Well, it also applies to what we hear and read.
This is Automatic Thinking.
But why do we automatically believe what we see? A very recent study (2018), which deals with why people fall for fake news, believes it’s because we are lazy. The study explored reasons for believing in ‘blatantly inaccurate headlines’ and found that susceptibility to fake news is driven by laziness. This might seem a little harsh but there is some truth behind it.
Earlier research suggests that tiredness is the issue. In one experiment, participants were asked to recommend prison sentences after reading crime reports on two offenders. Participants were told that within the crime reports any false statements were marked in red.
Then half the participants were distracted whilst the others completed the test in normal conditions. When the participants were distracted, they didn’t have time to process the false statements and gave longer sentences to the robber.
But I think it’s more than that. We have to make snap decisions in life. And because of that our instincts kick in and we rely on past experiences. As we have to react quickly it makes sense to believe what we see and hear.
Our ancestors didn’t have time to sit around, debating whether it was an enormous mammoth trampling towards them. But obviously, times have changed. This theory can help with understanding human behavior in particular circumstances. For instance, our judgment can be impaired when we are tired and distracted.
3. Why we only like to compare ourselves with similar types of people
Many of us compare ourselves with friends, colleagues, family members, even partners. But what do all these individuals have in common? They are all likely to be very similar to ourselves.
This is Social Comparison Theory.
We learn about ourselves and our abilities by comparing ourselves to other people. This is because we have an innate desire to re-evaluate our lives. The thing is, we can’t do it without comparison. But why do we only compare people that are similar to us?