Social behavior: definition and explanatory theories

This facet of behavior links us to the lives of others and to our relationships with them.

Human beings are bio-psycho-social entities, which means that components of a biological, psychological, and social nature coexist in each of us. With regard to social behavior, this will be the result of the fusion between genetic characteristics (DNA) and environmental factors that surround individuals.

However, in practice, we cannot separate one element from the other to study them separately. The truth is that although each person is something apparently isolated, we all define ourselves by social behavior.

Social behavior: definition and explanatory theories

What is social behavior? Definition

To understand a topic as complex as social behavior, it is necessary to review some of the main theories. In this way, we can familiarize ourselves with the subject.

Since ancient times, philosophers as relevant in Western thought as Aristotle already glimpsed the importance of social behavior and society for people’s lives. For the polymath, the human being was a social animal whose individual actions were inseparable from the social ones, since it is in society that people are where we are morally formed, being citizens and relating to the environment.

From these ideas, we can sketch a simple definition of what social behavior is: the set of behavioral dispositions in which there is a great influence on social interactions.

As we have seen before, it is a complex subject, so it is best to know the most relevant theories about social behavior so that you know how the people around you can act on a daily basis.

Main theories

The most important theories of social behavior are the following.

1. Theory of social influence

Social influence is a social psychological process in which one or more subjects influence the behavior of others. Factors such as persuasion, social conformity, social acceptance, and social obedience are taken into account in this process.

For example, today it is common to see how in social networks the so-called “influencers” significantly influence social behavior, especially in adolescents. This influence can be of two types:

Informational influence

It happens when a person changes their thinking or behavior because they believe that the other’s position is more correct than their own. This means that there is a conversion process.

Regulatory influence

Unlike the informative, it occurs when a person is not completely convinced by the position of the other, and yet, by wanting to be accepted by others, ends up acting against their own beliefs.

2. Classical conditioning theory

Ivan Pavlov affirms that a stimulus corresponds to an innate response, but maintains that if that stimulus is associated with other events, we can obtain different behavior. According to Pavlov, through induced stimuli, people’s behaviors can be changed.

This is mainly where marketing comes from. For example, if in an advertising campaign the product is associated with a pleasant stimulus for people (smiles, beaches, beauty) this will be translated into a greater amount of sales.

3. Theory of operant conditioning

Developed by BF Skinner, operant conditioning is a reward and punishment-based way of learning. This type of conditioning maintains that if the behavior brings with it a consequence, be it reward or punishment, the consequence of our behavior will lead us to learn.

This type of conditioning is frequently studied during learning early in development (infancy), but it is capable of explaining many other behaviors.

4. Vicarious learning theory

In vicarious learning (learning by imitation), reinforcement is another characteristic; it focuses mainly on the cognitive imitative processes of the individual who learns with a model figure. In the early years, parents and educators will be the basic role models.

The concept was proposed by psychologist Albert Bandura in his Theory of Social Learning in 1977. What he proposes is that not all learning is achieved by personally experiencing actions.

5. Sociocultural Theory

Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory emphasizes the interaction of young people with the environment that surrounds them, understanding cognitive development as the result of a multi-causal process.

The activities that they carry out together give children the possibility of internalizing the ways of thinking and behavior of the society where they are, adapting them as their own.

The collectivity and the masses

The study of the Psychology of the masses initially comes from the psychoanalytic tradition. What he sought was to increase the influence of the actions of large groups on the isolated person; that is to say, on the identity of this one, and to understand how these actions influence cultural movements and other kinds.

However, during the twentieth century, both behaviorism and the cognitive-behavioral trend began to explain this part of human life, based on the study of stimuli and responses made operative through records.

As we have seen so far, social behavior is truly a fairly deep issue where there is a diversity of feedback relationships, taking into account that the behavior of one individual influences the behavior of another, thus forming a collateral effect.

In conclusion

It is clear that understanding social behavior in an exact way is nothing more than a utopia, perhaps because in society we are more unpredictable than individually. However, the social factor must be taken into account in any analysis of behavior.

Social behavior: definition and explanatory theories