The Purpose of Human Behavior

What motivates our behavior? What techniques can we use to analyze and understand our behavior? And how can accurate behavioral analysis help us? We'll answer all these questions and more in this article.
The Purpose of Human Behavior

Last update: 31 August, 2020

Have you ever wondered why we act the way we do? One of the many, and perhaps one of the most important, goals of psychology is to uncover the answer to this question. Thus, today, we’re going to have a go at identifying and defining the so-called purpose of human behavior.

To do this, we’ll be discussing basic human needs, motivations, and how we can take back control when emotions overwhelm us and instinct starts to take over.

“One cannot choose wisely for a life unless he dares to listen to himself, his own self, at each moment of his life.”

-Abraham Maslow

A man thinking.

Basic human needs and the purpose of human behavior

In the world of psychology, there are many different models and theories that aim to understand human needs. Perhaps the best-known is that of Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who came up with a five-tier hierarchical model of human needs, often depicted as a pyramid. He suggested that to satisfy one set of needs, you first had to satisfy those on the level below.

According to Maslow, this pyramid is formed as follows:

  • Physiological needs. This includes needs such as food, water, air, sleep, rest, and sex.
  • Safety needs. Our physical well-being, employment, family, health, private property, etc.
  • Love and belongingness needs. These are related to friendship, affection, family, and sexual intimacy.
  • Esteem needs. Confidence, self-identification, respect, and success.
  • Self-actualization needs. Morality, spontaneity, creativity, self-fulfillment, and problem-solving.

In line with this theory, the purpose of our behavior could be motivated by our basic needs. For example, if our safety needs aren’t met, our behavior will be aimed at finding ways to satisfy them. At the same time, we’d also be motivated by our level of physiological needs.

We all share the most basic needs, which form the base of the pyramid. These serve as the main purpose of our behavior. In other words, our motivations and the purpose of our behavior are closely linked to one another.

The motivations and purpose of human behavior

According to the Oxford English dictionary, “motivation” is defined as “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way”. Among other factors, our behavior is conditioned by motivation. This may be an intrinsic motivation, something that drives us to act for personal pleasure, or an extrinsic one, driven by outside incentives.

As well as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, there are also several other types, including:

  • Achievement motivation. Driven by the need to perform and the pursuit of excellence.
  • Affiliation motivation. Related to the need to be part of a group, and to be in close contact with other people.
  • Power motivation. This is related to our ability to influence and control, and the desire to achieve recognition from others.

As you can see, there are several different sources of motivation. These can vary according to how aware we are of the close relationship between our needs and our actions. In some cases, this relationship can also be influenced by our culture and family.

While many of us do share the same sources of motivation, it also depends on the individual. Moreover, not all of us are fully aware of what our needs actually are. As a result, we may act to satisfy a need that we haven’t consciously identified.

This means that, on many occasions, we often struggle to pinpoint the motivations behind our actions. On other occasions, we do identify them but lie about them or conceal them from others.

A woman walking barefoot down a path.

How to avoid being ruled by your thoughts, feelings, and habits

When we’re not fully aware of our needs, it’s easier for us to feel lost, out of control, or as if we’re being directed by some higher power. For example, when we’re governed by feelings such as fear or shame, the purpose of our behavior is often avoidance. When we’re ruled by emotions such as anger or joy, we often choose to take action.

The same goes for our thoughts and habits. This means that, when we allow our thoughts to instantly translate into action, or we act purely out of habit rather than logic, it becomes more difficult for us to understand what we really want.


Thus, to ensure that these factors don’t influence our behavior, we need to increase our awareness. To do this, we need to:

  • Live in the present. This can help us to feel more connected, making it easier for us to come up with new and better solutions.
  • Meditation. Aids reflection and analysis.
  • Who or what is the purpose of your behavior directed at? Asking yourself this question will force you to pay more attention to actions and behaviors you would otherwise do automatically and without thinking. This will help you take back control of your life.

You should also try to be more in tune with your well-being, paying closer attention to your mental, physical, and social health. This will help you to become more aware of your needs.

You could also try practicing mindfulness. According to different studies, this technique can help us to avoid giving in to irrational behaviors. For example, in an article published in the Academy of Management Review, Kudesia suggests that this practice allows us to better handle difficult situations, via the use of transformative processes.

In conclusion, a number of different factors determine the purpose of our behavior. Everyone is different. However, when we seek to understand why we act the way we do, it becomes a lot easier to understand this purpose. This, in turn, allows us to regain control of our lives.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kudesia, R.S. (2019). Mindfulness as metacognitive practice. Academy of Management Review, 44 (2). 405-423.

  • Maslow, A. (2014). A theory of Human Motivation. Floyd VA:Sublime Books.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.