Behavioral history (n.) –
The study of human actions and patterns of action in history; a historiographical school that explores how an individual's ecology influences his/her actions, and how actions reshape shared and individual ecologies.
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Like other historiographical approaches (which distinguish themselves according to the disciplines and theories from which they draw), behavioral history is defined by its engagement with fields like biology, behavioral ecology, behavioral economics, and psychology.
What is the difference between behavioral history and behaviorism?
Behaviorism was a field of psychology popular from 1910–1960. In explaining human actions, the behaviorist school focused on conditioning, stimulus–response, and environmental factors.
Behavioral history retains behaviorism's interest in applied problems, human learning, and stimulus–response patterns. However, advances in the biosciences have given scholars a better appreciation for
1) the vast amount of variables in any decision-making setting and 2) the indeterminacy of individual responses to cues.
As a result, behavioral history considers most individual and environmental variables to be unknown and unknowable–especially when dealing with historical actors and accounts of their actions.
Why study behavioral history?
Technological advances are rapidly changing what we know (or think we know) about human behavior. Neuroscience, for example, has provided scholars with new information about how individuals react to environmental cues. The disciplines of philosophy, sociology, and psychology are already wrestling with these new research findings.
Historians have an important role to play in these debates. Historians can attest to the variability of human behavior through time and across cultures; historians can also alert other scholars to source limitations, and urge caution to those in the hard sciences who would take for granted that their data represents immutable, universal, empirical, or objective fact.
At the same time, the biosciences can alert historians to the significance of environmental factors previously overlooked. Engaging with the sciences can thus reveal new paths of inquiry and methodologies for studying the past.