Richard Pfau, who has a PhD in science education and a bachelor’s degree in psychology, wrote Your behavior: understanding and changing the things you do in response to what he sees as the current state of psychology. In his own words, today’s field of psychology is “dispersed and speculative”.
Peacock aim with Your behavior is to combine works from different fields, including psychology, sociology, anthropology and biology, into a coherent explanation of why we do the things we do, and do so in a way that is accessible to both laypeople and professionals. Throughout the book, he relies on the Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) to help readers understand their own behavior and change it.
Pfau does an excellent job of ordering and organizing their jobs. He begins by establishing the reader as an “autopoietic being,” which implies the claim that we are wired to survive. As such, he claims that most of our behaviors are done to ensure survival and often occur without conscious thought.
Pfau examines the origins of behavior from the cellular level to all possible environmental levels and discusses how the different levels interact with one another in a system that is not strictly linear.
In life, most of us have “references” or things like goals, plans, or how we think things should be. We change our behavior based on our perception of how congruent they are with our references. A simple example could be as simple as putting on a jacket when it’s cold. Our body’s reference is maintaining its optimal temperature and homeostasis. But it can also be a lot more complicated. For example, the references a person may have in their political or religious beliefs can lead to behaviors to bring into being the references for those beliefs.
We behave in such a way that our perceptions give us feedback to make sure we are in line with our references, regardless of whether our behavior is a conscious thing or not. Sometimes we can mistakenly assign behavior to one level if it is the result of another level. We are in constant interaction with our environment in terms of the perception of our references. Peacock offers a really fascinating look at human behavior.
The first ten chapters provide a comprehensive overview of Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) and why people behave the way they do, including a look at ourselves and others. Pfau organized the book so that the reader can dive as deeply as they want.
Each chapter begins with a brief overview and contains several box highlights that provide examples of topics in the chapter or more detailed information about concepts. These were very helpful as a refresher on what concepts mean throughout the book. I can’t remember ever encountering PCT or autopoiesis before reading it Your behavior.
Each chapter ends with a preview of the following chapter, which gives an idea of the intentional continuity of the process of making this book. At the end of each chapter you will find an extensive list of references for further reading as well as endnotes with further information on the material covered. The organization and presentation are very simple, well thought out and well presented.
I am still discussing Pfau’s criticism of current behavioral theory. He says that the term “culture” is abstract and therefore a statement such as “culture causes behavior” is meaningless or misleading and cannot be verified. But just as people evolve in interaction with their environment in order to survive, so do cultures, and in general cultures (our interaction with our environment in a systematic way) develop outside of our consciousness.
I think it can be “abstract” or “construct”. There are arguments that the self is a construct that I believe will not be addressed in this work. As I read this, I became curious about how PCT would address the self and perhaps culture as a construct.
After we have given a very thorough understanding of PCT and the behavior of ourselves and others, the last two chapters lead us through the analysis of our own behavior and its systematic change.
Pfau cites the works of several people to do this, but one that caught my eye was John Norcross, who had been involved in the transtheoretical model of change over the years. (Oddly enough, I didn’t find any reference to the model here.)
There are very useful appendices, including checklists and guidance forms, that readers can use to analyze and develop ways to change their own behavior. Pfau even discusses his own change process with weight and smoking.
This is a very comprehensive work that is clearly presented. Your behavior is a good book for anyone interested in behavior change, with a theory that encompasses a comprehensive system from the cellular level up.
This guest article appeared on PsychCentral.com: Your Behaviors: Understanding and Changing the Things You Do and was originally published on Psych Central by Richard H. Pfau and reviewed by Stan Rockwell, PsyD.
Richard H. Pfau (2017) Your Behavior: Understanding and Changing the Things You Do. Paragon House.
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