Types of human behaviour in psychology: a definitive guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Human behaviour is complex, yet it's vital to understand it to know the mental state of people around us. Psychologists use various methods to study human behaviour, such as experiments and observation. Understanding types of human behaviour and the distinct personality types can help you understand why people behave the way they do and know how to handle people differently and effectively. In this article, we discuss the types of human behaviour in psychology, the four basic personality types, characteristics of human behaviour and provide answers to some frequently asked questions to help you understand human behaviour.

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Types of human behaviour in psychology

The different types of human behaviour in psychology help measure and analyse behaviour. Psychologists have divided human behaviour into categories based on people's behaviour in different situations and responses to various stimuli. One behaviour, when accomplished, may become the stimulus for another behaviour, though people can control some behaviours through education, training and setting. You can know why you behave and make choices the way you do using these categories. The types of human behaviour include:

Molecular and moral behaviour

Molecular behaviour occurs suddenly without thinking. For instance, you may close your eyes suddenly when something is about to enter them, such as dust, an insect or an object. This act of closing your eyes happens unexpectedly without prior preparation. Moral behaviour, opposite of molecular behaviour, occurs after thinking. For instance, you can respond to an invitation or accusation at work after understanding the event well. Similarly, you may change the route when you see someone you want to avoid or something harmful.

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Overt and covert behaviour

Overt behaviour is a behaviour that's visible and happens outside of human beings. Examples of overt behaviour include eating or drinking something and taking part in sports, such as football or riding a bicycle. Covert behaviour, which is the opposite of overt, happens inside human beings and isn't visible. You engage in covert behaviour when you think since no one can see you thinking.

Voluntary and involuntary behaviour

Voluntary behaviour is the type of human behaviour that human beings can control and often depend on human wants. Such human behaviours include writing, talking, swimming and walking. Involuntary behaviour occurs naturally, with little control or thought. Examples of involuntary behaviour in human beings include breathing the air where you take in oxygen and take out carbon dioxide and the heart pumping.

Four basic types of personalities in human behaviour

The four basic types of human personalities in human behaviour are envious, optimistic, pessimistic and trusting. Since the four distinct personalities exist in all human beings, you exhibit distinct personalities in different situations. Also, personality types have some balance and a person may display a personality type and its opposite side, depending on the situation. Below are the four types of personalities in human behaviour:


People with an envious personality often seek to be better than everyone else, irrespective of the achievement. When faced with options, they choose an option that makes them equivalent to their partners or even better than them. You can still be supportive, even when you possess this personality.


People with an optimistic personality always have hope that things may work out in all situations and keep trying, even during complicated situations. They hope other people can make the best decisions just like them and select the best options. Though you may be an optimist, some situations may cause you to become pessimistic.


Pessimistic people have doubts about almost everything and often choose the lesser of two evils when they have options. As a pessimist, you select options that assure you of some victory rather than those that may lead to losing. You may also be optimistic in certain situations since the personality types have some kind of balance.


People with this personality trust others without requiring major reasons to believe them. They cooperate with other people and don't mind the outcome, such as winning or losing. With a trusting personality, you collaborate with your partner without thinking twice; though there are some situations, you may not trust others, such as when they betray you severally.

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Characteristics of human behaviour

The following are some characteristics of human behaviour:

  • Influenced by several factors: Several factors influence behaviour. Depending on the behaviour, the factors may be many or few.

  • The factors are different: The factors influencing behaviour belong to different categories, such as physiological and psychological. Environmental factors include direct, indirect and remote factors such as physical surroundings, cultural and social background, family, peers and nature of events.

  • Varies in complexity: Behaviour can range from simple to complex, influenced by various factors. For example, you may make simple decisions, such as walking away from trouble or complex decisions, such as choosing between two options or passing judgment.

  • Individual differences: People differ in nature, including their appearances, abilities, experiences and background, which may arise from genetics or psychosocial environment. Their responses in different situations may also differ.

  • Similarities and differences in individuals: While individual behaviours may differ, some are universal, such as blinking and breathing. Also, a group of people may behave similarly, such as cheering their favourite team, enjoying a good movie or recommending a good restaurant.

  • Purposeful or goal-directed: Most human behaviour has a purpose and aims to achieve specific goals, though some people may not be aware of the purpose. Though some goals and purposes can be universal, you can gain or learn from others.

  • Changeable: Change as a characteristic of behaviour enables people to change behaviour through learning and gaining experience. Such changes in behaviour include learning a new language and culture of doing things in a foreign country or workplace, growing up from childhood to adulthood and reforming behaviour.

  • Stability: Behaviour displays traits of consistency and stability since human behaviour is purposeful, enabling psychologists to make predictions. For example, some people still hold on to the old ways of life in the modern world.

  • Integration: Behaviour integrates different influencing factors, purposes and learning, which helps differentiate them and understand and foresee their behaviour. Integration and organisation of behaviour help determine a person's personality as it brings out their uniqueness.

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Frequently asked questions

Some of the frequently asked questions on the type of human behaviour in psychology include:

What is the meaning of human behaviour?

Behaviour refers to your actions or reactions in response to internal or external stimulus situations. Psychology helps understand the nature of human behaviour, which is anything a person does and psychologists can observe, record and measure it. You can understand a person's behaviour when you know the reasons that made the person behave the way they do or their response in the event of something happening. By approving or disapproving behaviour, you evaluate behaviour, which happens daily for most people.

Why do human beings behave the way they do?

Human beings behave the way they do because of their nature and nurture, which is the nature of the psychosocial environment. In explaining human behaviour, the nature perspective identifies genetics, evolution, hormones and DNA make-up as playing a significant role in shaping human behaviour. An excellent example of how genetics plays a crucial role in shaping personalities, especially for those related, is in twins, who, even when separated, show similar traits. You know how genetic predispositions shape your behaviour by observing how your parents, siblings and other relatives behave.

The nurture perspective explains behaviour as being shaped by the psychosocial environment, though people can control their behaviour. In nurture, the psychosocial environment includes upbringing, peers and present surroundings. There are many examples of the effects of nurture on behaviour that can help you understand people's behaviour, such as attributing behaviours and problems to early childhood and parents shaping their children's future. Also, peers influence people's behaviours and may change depending on their activities and circumstances.

How do psychologists study human behaviour?

Psychologists study human behaviour through experimental psychology and social psychology. Experimental psychology is a scientific research method that psychologists use to analyse people and see if a cause-and-effect relationship exists when conducting experiments. The laboratory-style experiments which occur externally have some aspects controlled, which may affect the results of the studies. For example, a study that aims to determine how specific TV programmes affect children may involve exposing children of different ages to the same programmes and observing their behaviour immediately after they finish watching them.

In social psychology, research involves observation, questionnaires and surveys to determine how people react to different situations in real life. Psychologists use this type of psychological research to study and understand human behaviour, such as the impact of certain activities on people, why people engage in certain behaviours such as deviance and what motivates them.

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