The Bases of Behaviour: Body, Mind, and Environment, Stated Simply

Human behaviour is based within a tripartite arrangement of body, mind, and environment. Stimuli are received from inside and outside the brain to precipitate action that manifests as thoughts, expressions, and movement.


The body is of course, a physical object that operates biologically and neurologically. It occupies space through time, and like all living things, succumbs to eventual death, and generally, today in the 8th or 9th decade. It receives and sends messages from and to, its environment. It ‘makes sense’ of the world in a variety of ways through the mediation effects of knowledge acquisition from seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting. At another level, it is a social being that interacts regularly with other human beings that form a ‘culture’ of the body, complete with changing body norms of social expression, of consuming, of violence, of sexuality/sensuality, of environmental interaction, and of dying and death.


Arguably, the mind consists physically of neural networks and electromagnetic fields, according to the latest research. But it also exists as thoughts and images to each of us, as we evoke them internally to our consciousness, or they are immediately brought to our consciousness by external events, through one or more of our five senses. It discerns, thinks about things (self feedback), and precipitates action as further thought, imaging or physical movement. Intuition, reasons, ideas, meaning, intentions – are all part of what the mind uses or creates. Cognition and emotion are implemented in the physical brain from chemical/hormonal activity, and from external stimuli that can affect a person’s perception, mood, personality and reasoning.


The environment is everything around and within us, including the brain, body organs, skin, blood, and so forth. Trees, birds, animals, pavement, grass, concrete, cars, houses, gardens, people, wind, rain/snow, sun, trains, stars, planets, galaxies, mountains, lakes & rivers, etc., comprise our external environment. Humans regularly experience and interact with many of these external environment forms, and many others not listed.


Humans, unlike most other animals, can refuse to be what they are. They can for example, voluntarily kill themselves and others, for reasons that have nothing to do with promoting the survival of the total species. They can invoke parochial rules that prevent certain others from having access to their respective groups’ communities and values. Humans regularly show biases, prejudices, and hostility towards others not like themselves. Such cultural and traditional norms of segregation and treatment are nurtured from birth through socialization patterns that can be clearly detected. Even within homogeneous groups (same social class, ethnicity, religion, political persuasion, or skin colour) biases can emerge among sub-groups that support new values. Various levels of conflict may occur as these new values are adapted, tolerated or rejected.

This nature-nurture ‘dichotomy’ (innate biology versus learned sociology) that goes on with social change across the world, is actually reciprocal. “Nurture could not affect us if we didn’t have the biology we do. Every cultural trait is really a bio-cultural trait – every trait we acquire through learning involves an interaction between biology and the environment…there is no sharp contrast between nature and nurture. Nurture depends on nature, and nature exists in the service of nurture. This means that we must give up on approaches to social science that try to articulate how humans act or think by nature. Nature alone determines no pattern of behaviour.” (J. J. Prinz, Beyond Human Nature: How culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind, 2012. W. W. Norton & Co., NY. p. 368) This is distinct from other animals who are not aware that they are aware (of cultural change from nurturance).

The photo above represents how humans are capable of planning for social and individual change, with a complexity attached to it that is far greater than any other creature. The complexity involves body, mind, and the environment in constant feedback loops that usually involve corrective action, adaptation and assimilation of new values, knowledge, and procedures. In this sense we often see change as “progressive”, but it can be sporadically reactionary to previous times, depending on the distribution of power and authority in society. In this instance, my daughter received social recognition for effort associated with obtaining a Master’s degree, an index of a ‘rite of passage’ in society (nurture), but others would prefer to say it mostly reflected innate capabilities (nature). Intuitively, it is both working together.

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