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Chapter 2 Theoretical Perspectives on Human Behavior
Essentials of Human Behavior
Integrating Person, Environment,
and the Life Course
Elizabeth D. Hutchison and Contributing Authors
Sees human behavior as the outcome of reciprocal interactions of persons operating within linked social systems.
System feedback mechanisms —the processes by which information about past behaviors in a system are fed back into the system in a circular manner.
The structure of roles has been an important mechanism for maintaining system balance.
Chaos theory, and the closely related complexity theory, emphasize systems processes that produce change, even sudden, rapid, radical change.
Hutchison - Essentials of Human Behavior Integrating Person, Environment, and the Life Course © 2012 SAGE Publications, Inc.
Chaos theory emphasizes that all systems are made up of subsystems, and all systems, as well as, subsystems serve in other systems.
Deep ecology has emerged with an emphasis on the notion of the total interconnectedness of all elements of the natural and physical world.
General systems theory suggests that in highly complex societies, systems tend to become fragmented and closed to each other.
Typically looks for sources of conflict, and causes of human behavior.
Oppression of non-dominant groups leads to their alienation, or a sense of indifference or hostility.
Pluralistic theory of social conflict recognizes that more than one social conflict is going on at all.
Empowerment theories focus on processes that individuals and collectivities can use to recognize patterns of inequality and injustice and take action to increase their own power.
Feminist theories focus on male domination of the major social institutions and present a vision of a just world based on gender equity.
Rational Choice Perspective
Sees human behavior as based on self-interest and rational choices about effective ways to accomplish goals.
The perspective is interdisciplinary, with strong roots in utilitarian philosophy, economics, and social behaviorism.
Social exchange theory starts with the premise that social behavior is based on the desire to maximize benefits and minimize costs.
Is currently popular in sociology, health promotion, and family studies.
Comparison level - a standard for evaluating the rewards and costs of a given relationship, is based on what the evaluator expects from the relationship.
Comparison level alternative is the lowest level of outcomes a person will accept in light of alternative opportunities.
Social Constructionist Perspective
Focuses on how people learn, through their interactions with each other, to classify the world and their place in the world.
People are seen as social beings who interact with each other and the physical world based on shared meanings, or shared understandings about the world.
Constructionists emphasize the existence of multiple social and cultural realities.
Both persons and environments are dynamic processes, not static structures.
Social constructionists also disagree about how constraining the environment is.
Phenomenological sociology - individuals and groups are constrained by the preexisting social and cultural arrangements created by their predecessors.
The social constructionist perspective sees human understanding, or human consciousness, as both the product and the driving force of social interaction.
Concerned with how internal processes such as needs, drives, and emotions motivate human behavior.
Sigmund Freud looked at the human personality from a number of interrelated points of view; the most notable are his:
drive or instinct theory
psychosexual stage theory
Psychodynamic Perspective con’t
Gives primary attention to the rational part of the mind and the human capacity for adaptation.
It recognizes conscious as well as unconscious attempts to cope, and the importance of both past and present experiences.
Defense mechanisms, unconscious processes that keep intolerable threats from conscious awareness, play an important role.
Object relations theory
How people develop attitudes toward others in the context of early nurturing relationships.
How those attitudes affect the view of the self as well as social relationships
focuses on the individual need to organize the personality into a cohesive sense of self and to build relationships that support this cohesive sense of self.
proposes that the basic human drive is for relationships with others.
how human behavior unfolds across the life course
how people change and stay the same over time
Human development is seen to occur in clearly defined stages based on a complex interaction of biological, psychological, and social processes
Life span or life cycle theory
based in psychology, focuses on the inner life during age-related stages
Epigenetic model of human development
the psychological unfolding of personality takes place in sequences
Hutchison - Essentials of Human Behavior ntegrating Person, Environment, and the Life Course © 2012 SAGE Publications, Inc.
Erikson divided the life cycle into eight stages, each with a special psychosocial crisis:
Stage 1 (birth–1 year): basic trust versus mistrust
Stage 2 (ages 2–3): autonomy versus shame, doubt
Stage 3 (ages 3–5): initiative versus guilt
Stage 4 (ages 6–12): industry versus inferiority
Stage 5 (ages 12–18 or so): identity versus role confusion
Stage 6 (early–late 20s): intimacy versus isolation
Stage 7 (late 20s–50s): generativity versus stagnation
Stage 8 (late adulthood): integrity versus despair
Life course perspective
Conceptualizes the life course as a social, rather than psychological, phenomenon that is unique for each individual, with some common life course markers, or transitions, related to shared social and historical contexts.
There are six major themes:
interplay of human lives and historical time
biological, psychological, and social timing of human lives
linked or interdependent lives
human capacity for choice-making
diversity in life course trajectories
developmental risk and protection
Social Behavioral Perspective
Human behavior is learned as individuals interact with their environments.
Three major versions of behavioral theory:
Classical conditioning theory
Operant conditioning theory
Cognitive social learning theory
Classical Conditioning: Pavlov’s dog digestion research
Dog salivated at meat powder, then at seeing it, then at person arriving in the room.
Stimulus – Response (a look, song, shirt, smell, etc.)
Operant Conditioning: BF Skinner’s box (cat, mouse)
Behavior changes based on consequences of action.
Positive, Negative, Punishment
Punishment weakens behavior, does not extinguish
Cognitive social learning theory- Albert Bandura
Agreed with Classical and Operant Conditioning, but added two things based on his research
1. Behavior is learned from observational learning in the person’s environment [which we know is variable]
2. People process information between their current behavior, understanding the consequences, change
1. Attention: exposure, notice
2. Retention: what we remember
3. Reproduction: imitate, limitations (watch Olympics)
4. Motivation: measuring the rewards vs. the costs
Self-efficacy - a sense of personal competence
Efficacy expectation - an expectation that one can personally accomplish a goal
All human problems of living can be defined in terms of undesirable behaviors, and all behaviors can be defined, measured, and changed.
Called the Third Force of psychology
Includes humanistic psychology and existential psychology
Includes transpersonal theory, which focuses on the spiritual aspects of human experience
The existential sociology tradition presents as a dominant theme the idea that people are simultaneously:
free and constrained
both active and passive agents
the growing movement of positive psychology
Existential psychology presented four primary themes:
Each person is unique and has value.
Suffering is a necessary part of human growth.
Personal growth results from staying in the immediate moment.
Personal growth takes a sense of commitment.
It is the emphasis on the necessity for suffering that sets existentialism apart from humanism.
Maslow developed a theory of hierarchy of needs.
Higher needs cannot emerge in full motivational force until lower needs have been at least partially satisfied.
Physiological needs: hunger, thirst, sex
Safety needs: avoidance of pain and anxiety; desire for security
Belongingness and love needs: affection, intimacy
Esteem needs: self-respect, adequacy, mastery
Self-actualization: to be fully what one can be; altruism, beauty, creativity, justice
A relatively recent branch of psychology that undertakes the scientific study of people’s strengths and virtues and promotes optimal functioning of individuals and communities.
Criteria for evaluating theory:
Coherence and conceptual clarity
Testability and evidence of empirical support
Diversity and power
Usefulness for social work practice
The Merits of Multiple Perspectives
The fields of psychology and sociology offer a variety of patterned ways of thinking about changing person-environment configurations, ways that have been worked out over time to assist in understanding human behavior.
They are tools that can help us make sense of the situations we encounter.
Each of these perspectives will be useful in some situations that you encounter as a social worker, and therefore should be in your general knowledge base.
nd the Life Course © 2012 SAGE Publications, Inc.
A relatively recent branch of psychology that undertakes the sci