Consider these scenarios: an office with under-motivated employees is struggling to maintain team momentum, an ex-offender is trying to get a new start, a young manager is experiencing difficulties with leadership, a community is in need of a program to encourage healthy behavior in teens, a nonprofit organization is trying to craft a philanthropic appeal. These are all situations in which a specialist in human behavior can make a real impact.
Ask twenty people their definition of the study of human behavior and you’re likely to get as many different answers. Some consider it a soft skill on par with observation and intuition. Others would define it as an academic pursuit akin to anthropology and sociology. Still others would equate it with psychology and human motivations. The fascinating part of human behavior studies is that it incorporates all of these aspects and more.
Anyone engaged in the study and practice of human behavioral sciences can expect to be involved in a field touching many areas of the applied and social sciences. Professionals and students can expect to work one-on-one with individuals and in complex group situations. They have the option to work in settings ranging from offices to nonprofits to educational institutions. The professions associated with human behavior studies are growing and opportunities abound.
The Science Behind it all
What is the study of human behavior? This diverse field involves the research and practical application of how individuals interact and work with one another, and how groups operate. Strongly rooted in psychology and sociology, studies of human behavior give us an academic understanding of motivations, productivity, and how teams work. In turn, these insights can help make workplaces or any group setting more productive.
Professor Charles Tatum of the Department of Psychology at National University has spent his career in the fields of cognitive psychology and industrial and organizational psychology. He sees human behavior as deeply rooted in biology, experience, and culture. Understanding these motivations and influences, he feels, is key to developing systems that can positively impact productivity and success in workplace and group settings.
“We’re deeply influenced by both biology and environment,” he explains. “It’s the interaction of the two. Two people with similar characteristics will end up very differently depending on where they grow up. Look at temperament; that’s a biological factor. Someone with a low frustration point may find themselves doing poorly in school and end up turning to crime. That same temperament, in another environment, might have a totally different outcome. If channeled into sports, for instance, it can even be beneficial.”
The influence of environment becomes even more profound when looking at differences across cultures and societies. The norms associated with child rearing, ethics, and religion all add layers of complexity to the study of human behavior. In many societies, the advent of the internet, digital technologies, and mobile devices are changing the landscape of human behaviors.
Dr. Tatum feels that smartphones and the constant need to post or respond to messages have led to more people being distracted. “People think they can effectively multitask. Just look at people checking phones in their cars. But research shows that people lose effectiveness when constantly multitasking. The internet has helped us gain access to any information needed but, ironically, made us less productive.”
A Changing, Complex Field
Human behavior-related fields have branched into several distinct areas based on populations served and outcomes. Often, those pursuing study in this field will be trained as a psychologist. However, while the field of psychology is typically associated with clinical counseling, studies of human behavior expand beyond individual treatment into areas of applied research, ethics, sexuality, and adult development. Students pursuing a master’s-level program related to human behavior studies will be immersed in a broad range of topics, taking classes in personal and professional ethics, personal growth and communication, organizational behaviors, behavioral change theory, leadership, behavioral research, and many others. The goal of covering such a range of subjects related to human behavior is a well-rounded education covering aspects of individual and group dynamics. Training and education vary by specialty.
Careers Relevant to the Study of Human Behavior
Human behavior studies are applicable to many career opportunities including academia, community service, human resources and employee assistance programs, government, philanthropic work and probation, and parole officers to name just a few.
Salaries will vary widely depending on location and in the career field you choose to apply your skills. As one example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the job outlook for human resources managers to grow 9 percent from 2016 to 2026. According to the BLS, the median wage for HR managers stood at $110,120 in 2017. In California, which has one of the highest levels of employment in this occupation, the median wage was $139,860.
The BLS projects the job outlook for probation officers to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026. These professionals had a median wage of $51,410 nationally in 2017, while the median wage in the state of California, another top employer in this profession, stood at $84,870.
The Study of Human Behavior at National University
National University offers both an on-campus and online degree program related to the study of human behavior.
The Master of Arts in Human Behavior is designed for students to acquire greater knowledge of the behavioral sciences and theories of human behavior. The degree coursework explores a wide array of behavioral topics covering personal, social, and organizational issues. The program is intended for students who have specific ambitions in the fields of supervision, management, and administration, but will also benefit students undergoing life transitions, seeking personal or career growth or requiring preparation for doctoral-level training. You can learn more about National University’s Master of Arts in Human Behavior on our program page.