Definitions of Human Behavior

The study of human behavior is an attempt to explain how and why humans function the way they do. A complex topic, human behavior is a product both of innate human nature and of individual experience and environment. Definitions of human behavior abound, depending on the field of study. In the scientific world, human behavior is seen as the product of factors that cause people to act in predictable ways.


For example, speaking in public is very high on the list of fears modern humans have. While no two people react the same to any given fear, fear itself does trigger certain innate biological responses in humans such as an increase in breathing rate. How a person handles that fear is a product of individual experiences. The person who has never spoken in public may be unable to fulfill the obligation. Another person, knowing his or her job requires public speaking, may chose to take a class on public speaking to learn how to cope with the fear.

Human behavior is also defined as the result of attempts to satisfy certain needs. These needs may be simple to understand and easy to identify, such as the need for food and water. They also may be complex, such as the need for respect and acceptance. A working knowledge of human behavior can help an instructor better understand a student. It is also helpful to remember that to a large extent thoughts, feelings, and behavior are shared by all men or women, despite seemingly large cultural differences. For example, fear causes humans to either fight or flee. In the public speaking example above, one person may “flee” by not fulfilling the obligation. The other person may “fight” by learning techniques to deal with fear.

Another definition of human behavior focuses on the typical life course of humans. This approach emphasizes human development or the successive phases of growth in which human behavior is characterized by a distinct set of physical, physiological, and behavioral features. The thoughts, feelings, and behavior of an infant differ radically from those of a teen. Research shows that as an individual matures, his or her mode of action moves from dependency to self-direction. Therefore, the age of the student impacts how the instructor designs the curriculum. Since the average age of a student can vary, the instructor needs to offer a curriculum that addresses the varying student tendency to self-direct. [Figure 1-1]

Figure 1-1. The average age of a student pilot is 34, while the average age of a maintenance student is 25.

Figure 1-1. The average age of a student pilot is 34, while the average age of a maintenance student is 25.

By observing human behavior, an instructor can gain the knowledge needed to better understand him or herself as an instructor as well as the learning needs of students. Understanding human behavior leads to successful instruction.


Personality Types

In a continuing quest to figure out why humans do what they do, the mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers pioneered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test in 1962. The MBTI was based on Jungian theory, previous research into personality traits, and lengthy personal observations of human behavior by Myers and Briggs. They believed that much seemingly random variation in human behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment. They distilled human behavior into sixteen distinct personality types. Inspired by their research, clinical psychologist and author, Dr. David Keirsey condensed their sixteen types into four groups he calls Guardian, Artisan, Rational, and Idealist. Others have either contributed or continued to expand personality research and its influence on human behavior. Personality type testing now runs the gamut from helping people make career choices to helping people choose marriage partners.

Instructor and Student Relationship

How does personality type testing affect instructors and students? Research has led many educational psychologists to feel that based on personality type, everyone also has an individual style of learning. In this theory, working with that style, rather than against it, benefits both instructor and student. Although controversy often swirls around the educational benefits of teaching students according to personality types, it has gained a large following and been implemented at many levels of education. Today’s student can visit any number of websites, take a personality test, and discover what type of student he or she is and how best to study.

Not only does personality type influence how one learns, it also influences how one teaches. Learning one’s personality type helps an instructor recognize how he or she instructs. Why is it important to recognize personal instruction style? The match or mismatch between the way an instructor teaches and the way a student learns contributes to student satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Students whose learning styles are compatible with the teaching styles of an instructor tend to retain information longer, apply it more effectively, learn more, and have a more positive attitude toward the course in general. Although an instructor cannot change his or her preferred style of teaching to match a learning style, steps can be taken to actively bridge the differences.

Consider Derek’s dilemma with Jason. Derek knows he is the type of instructor who provides a clear, precise syllabus and has a tendency to explain with step-by-step procedures. His teaching style relies on traditional techniques and he often finds himself teaching as he was taught. Observation leads Derek to believe Jason is the type of person who needs the action, excitement, and variation reflected in his career choice. In an effort to focus Jason on the need to learn all aspects of flight, Derek sets up a scenario for the day that features how to scout locations for future adventure tours.

By adjusting the flight scenario, Derek pushes himself out of his lock-step approach to teaching. He has also added an element of variation to the lesson that not only interests Jason, but is one of the reasons he wants to learn to fly.