Reason vs Behavior: Which one is more important?

switch from chaos to harmony
Drawing By Adrian Serghie

If you don’t live somewhere alone, isolated from others, then you see people and you notice them and their behavior. The question is: how often do you judge them based on their behavior and how often do you seek and try to understand the reason behind that behavior?

One of my biggest beliefs is that noticing one’s behavior is not enough for drawing a conclusion, therefore I try to find out what made them behave in that certain way (and that’s what psychology tries to do since… forever).

The biggest struggle is to get past the behavior. Since the behavior is what we see, it’s so hard to consider that the person might had something else in mind, but he/she couldn’t behave the way that person wanted.

Let’s take shop-lifting as an example. From what I noticed, people don’t always do it because they need those things. There are times when people do it just because they love the adrenaline rush or because they have friends that do it and they just want to be part of the group. Or maybe they have a crush on the cute security guard and they want to be “inspected” by him/her.

Okay, now let’s get back to our question: which one is more important? The reason behind or the behavior? For me, the reason is always the important part because it says something about the inner universe of that person. The behavior itself only speaks about how one decides to do something, but the decision-making process is the important one (aaand that’s why Psychology exists).

Since this is important, what’s the best way to find the reason behind one’s behavior (take into consideration that most of the time people are not willing to reveal the real reasons)?


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39 thoughts on “Reason vs Behavior: Which one is more important?

  1. Observation and listening actually tell us a lot. I’m a watcher, I like to sit on the sides and observe and not draw attention to myself. I find that paying attention to what others are doing and saying helps me understand the stuff going on behind the scenes.

  2. The world will judge you on the ‘outer’ part of you. It is important to understand yourself, because only then you can change the behavior. Being judged on behavior can hold a valuable clue then.
    For my friends and loved ones I surely take their circumstances and inner world into consideration.
    When someone is rude or unpleasant to me, I can attribute that to them having a bad day though ๐Ÿคฃ

    1. “When someone is rude or unpleasant to me, I can attribute that to them having a bad day though ” <- I usually do it too! I think they might have problems in other areas and they just can't hold it inside anymore ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. it is tough to make any judgements or decisions based on observation of behavior alone. One should ( in the case of others) be proactive in finding out the source of the behaviors based on each persons background, personality, and environment before making any true assessment. For example- the shoplifter in one scenario may be a wealthy teen just trying to get attention from their parents, in another it may be a homeless person in a crime ridden area just trying to obtain food. Additionally in yet another scenario, it may be a person trying to get revenge on a store owner who mistreated them at one time… there are variables based on age,circumstance, mental health issues,medical needs…etc etc etc..if i am understanding the question correctly.

  4. I can agree here, to an extent, but let me play devil’s advocate for the sake of conversation. I’d argue that society has given up on the concept of self-discipline and responsibility for one’s actions. Watch the news and see how much heinous behavior is justified by “They (or somebody else) made me mad. Road rage, shootings, assaults, etc… Me having a bad day doesn’t give me a right to break your nose, steal your property, or whatever.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right, you don’t justify bad behavior with more bad behavior, and we’re supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated. Self-control starts with setting one’s ego aside and considering the impact of one’s actions on others.

    1. Fair point! I think the justification itself is not a reason. The question is: how is it possible to get so mad that it makes them hurt others? Is it because that person cannot stand being wrong? Is it because he/she/they is/are so self-centered that the universe should gravitate around him/her/them? Is it because they had poor education and they cannot understand the value of another human being? Or maybe all of these combined? It can be really tricky to find the real reason behind these behaviors…

      1. That indeed is a better question, or a more clear version of the original question. ๐Ÿ™‚

        It depends on the individual person as far as the exact makeup of things you listed. I believe they’re all causes though. If you weant a “big picture” to lump them all under however, it’s the messages that society puts out now. Everybody is entitled to everything NOW. Your feelings are sacred above all, never question them no matter how irrational they are. It’s all about ME, not the other person. MY opinion is fact and must NEVER be challenged, etc… AND anything that counters any of that is EVIL and must be utterly crushed.

        It’s funny (sad)… I hear all this talk about how the 80s were the decade of greed and how bad it was… The 1980s were a moral paradise compared to much of what I see nowadays.

      2. You’re totally right! Soon societies will not exist because each individual will think he\she is better and more important than anyone and anything.

    2. Couldn’t agree more Silk. People can’t be told what off for bad behavior anymore and for some that is what they need to draw their attention to what they are doing and move onto learning from it.

  5. Iโ€™m a firm believer in assessing patterns of behavior. People screw upโ€”for multiple reasons or motivationsโ€”but when itโ€™s constant, I need to ask myself why this person is a part of my life. May we all self-reflect, hold ourselves accountable, and think before we speak and act. ๐Ÿ•Š

  6. This is a really thought-provoking piece, Bogdan. As a matter of fact, I didn’t immediately respond because I needed some days to process your piece and figure out what I wanted to say in response. It’s true that actions are always born out of motivation. That certainly complicates how we go about “reading” human behavior. But motivation can be just as complex. It is possible that many people behave in a certain way because they have all sorts of competing and complex reasons for doing so. For example, I might steal because I’m hungry and need money to buy food. But I might also enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from taking risks. I also might have a deep compulsion to steal–I may not even be able to articulate why i do such things. I could also steal because I had a poor upbringing and no one taught me right from wrong. All these motivations could be working on me simultaneously. All this makes me want to say that human beings are mostly (but not entirely) inscrutable. Of course, that’s why we love observing them and writing about all manner of psychological topics.

    Also, I strongly suspect that not a lot of people are very self-aware which means their reasons for doing things are pretty opaque to them

    1. Full of wisdom, as always! I totally agree that most people are not very self-aware and that their reasons for doing things are pretty opaque to them. The interesting part is that even though they are not aware, the reasons are there and some of them can be observed…

  7. I feel that the real reasons for our behavior is written and played back constantly in the subconscious mind which they say runs are lives 95% of the time.

    Howโ€™s that for BS!?

      1. Written during the first 5-7 years of our life by the way our parents and others treat us. Or by things we do over and over again forming habits!

        Thatโ€™s how or Hal or anyhow!

  8. I offered these definitions once:

    Maturity is the ability to balance your needs and desires against those of others, and the strength to act according to that evaluation.

    Adulthood is a measure of our capacity to exercise love and power, and the wisdom to know when to express both.

    These reflecting my sense that what is important is whether someone is invested in maturing into adulthood.

    Given that goal, behavior is critical in that it creates reactions from society that signal conflicts of needs and desires that must be negotiated. “Reasons” are essential to that negotiation. Of course, there’s no point in negotiating with a tyrant – as adults we don’t waste our breath. But when we find a community that is creatively engaged with out self-expression – then we hit the sweet spot and lift each other up.

      1. I’ve come across some interesting psychology on this: it turns out that we retain implicit memories that are not integrated into our life narrative. Those memories influence our behavior, but when asked we can’t justify those behaviors. (Explicit memories concern those events that we are attentive to.)

        In assessing reasons, then, we need to analyze the structure of the explanation. When the behavior is driven by implicit memories, it will tend to be vague. And also relatively immune to logic.

        Implicit memories tend to be stored in the body, and manifest as inexplicable syndromes. When attention is focused on the right body part, the implicit memories may return. Once recovered, we can then integrate them constructively into our life narrative.

  9. Nature AND Nurture. The reason is both of those created the version of the person that has presented itself. The Nature being the inherent programming of their genetics has predisposed them to certain capabilities biologically; The Nurture being the inclusive of both the environment they grew up in and the environment they found themselves in at that very moment in which they REACTED to. How they were raised helped to determine how their biological programming would be ran in dealing with the present. Kind of like using one’s powers for good or evil.
    That’s my opinion.

  10. Some steal a bread because they’re hungry, others because they’ve a sickly compulsion to steal and the most horrible ones just steal because they can get away with it and feel entitled to take whatever they beget.

  11. A lot of good points made here! Nature vs nurture for instance, which I find very relevant to this topic. But what about the role that emotions play, sometimes over-riding our normal behavior: like anger, jealousy, desperation to name a few. Or consider our biochemical reward system that exists in every human being. Short bursts of feel good chemicals like dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin that occur during extreme happiness, personal success, or perhaps even the rush of escaping danger as in getting away with theft?

    If we were all the same, identifying motif (reason) in others would be easy. But we’re all different individuals living different realities based on different experiences, upbringings, cultural pressures and on and on. The reason why YOU may shop-lift an item and why someone else might, can be a result of hundreds of different personal variables. And like you’ve stated, even they may not be able to tell you exactly why? Interesting topic I enjoyed the read.

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