We often wonder why we do the things we do, why we act in certain ways and what guides our interactions with others. There are different theories regarding human behavior that attempt to explain and answer these questions. Here are a few examples of theories that someone might use to help understand behavior and how people interact with their world.
Psychodynamic theory originally developed by Sigmund Freud tries to explain behavior, motivation and personality characteristics in terms of internal processes, such as conscious and unconscious forces. You may remember learning about the id (our instincts), superego (morality) and ego (the mediator between the two) at some point in your education. Currently, psychodynamic theory is linked to a person’s early attachment relationships with parents/significant others and how these connections influence one’s developmental history and response to trauma.
Sometimes people view behavior in terms of different systems, such as one’s family, organizations or social groups. Essentially, the focus is on relationships among individuals, groups or organizations. Problem solving from a system standpoint involves looking beyond the individual to see what other forces are impacting their lives.
What we learn in social situations or while interacting with our environment has been linked to the social learning theory of behavior. This approach to understanding behavior examines the interaction between thought and behavior in what has been termed cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. A person with this type of approach would examine how problematic thoughts or behaviors are maintained through reinforcement, either positive or negative. Additionally, they might be interested in what behavior is being modeled for someone.
When a person is feeling oppressed within their interactions with others, a focus could be on power or dominance in relationships. For example, if an individual feels exploited in a social or work situation, someone might utilize conflict theory to help them understand the role of power in relationships between dominant and nondominant groups.
Many psychotherapists have an eclectic approach to their work whereby they utilize the best aspects of each of these theoretical approaches to understanding human behavior to help others. Having different ways of understanding behavior is beneficial because not all situations that people experience are the same, nor is there life experience.