The Scando Review
The Scando Review
Understanding human behaviour better using levels of analysis

Understanding human behaviour better using levels of analysis

‘Levels of analysis’ is a conceptual framework that can be used to help us understand human behaviour.

Human behaviour can be understood at various levels – biological levels (genetic factors and brain processes), psychological levels (for example, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes), and environmental levels (for example, our physical and social environments).

We have already discussed various perspectives that give us different conceptions of human behaviour. Yet, to get a full understanding of human behaviour and its causes, we have to move between the three layers of analysis mentioned above.

Let us take an example. You are supposed to sit for an examination. The stress that you may feel during that time may be triggered either by environmental factors like the way the seats are arranged, or by the presence of invigilators, or by chemical changes in the brain. This means that understanding psychological and biological levels are important to explaining the human behaviour properly. To get a deeper understanding of the levels of analysis framework, let us work through the example of social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Understanding SAD using levels of analysis

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) refers to an excessive emotional discomfort, fear, or worry in situations that involve being judged or evaluated by others. It can be triggered by public-performance situations like giving a presentation or reading aloud in class, or by social situations like meeting new people. It can be explained by biological, biochemical, psychological and environmental factors.

Biological and biochemical factors

Ronald M Rapee and Susan H Spence, in their article titled The Etiology of Social Phobia: Empirical Evidence and An Initial Model, published in Clinical Psychology Review, suggested that “genetic factors play a modest but significant role in the development of social anxiety, in both children and adults.”

Several studies have shown that biological and biochemical factors contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder.

Psychological factors

Children who are withdrawn or shy when facing a new situation are thought to be more prone to developing SAD.  According to the article Infant Predictors of Behavioural Inhibition, written by Eva Moehler, Jerome Kagan, Rieke Oelkers-Ax, Romuald Brunner, Louise Poustka, Johann Haffner and Franz Resch and published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, behavioural inhibition in the second year of life is considered to be a predictor ofa social anxiety in later childhood, adolescence, and even adulthood.

Parental styles of overprotection, rejection and lack of emotional attachment have been proved to act as a catalyst to the development of SAD.

Behavioural inhibition refers to a pattern of behaviour, including withdrawal, avoidance and fear. Children with behavioural inhibition are often cautious, shy and introverted in unfamiliar situations.

Environmental factors

Though parental psychopathology (features of a person’s mental health considered collectively) may increase the risk of an individual developing SAD, it is the interaction of other major factors, including family environment, which appear to be pivotal in the development of SAD. It is difficult for affected parents to develop a successful coping strategy. They tend to react to their child’s fears negatively, which may result in overprotective behaviours. Parental styles of overprotection, rejection and lack of emotional attachment have been proved to act as a catalyst to the development of SAD. In addition, negative life events in childhood increase the risk of SAD in later stages of life. Family violence during childhood is a contributing factor to SAD, and there are gender-specific differences in how these situations affect an adult’s life.

We understood that, in addition to genetic factors, psychological and environmental factors play a significant role in the development of SAD. In this way, human development can be described as an intricate blend of biological, psychological and social forces.

Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.

How do you describe the term "Social Anxiety Disorder" to your students?

Can you think of the importance of levels of analysis in understanding human behaviour?

Can you think of how psychological and environmental factor affect a person's behaviour?

Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.

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Happy Teaching!