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Behaviour (U.S. spelling Behavior) is the purely objective aspect of activity, excluding any reference to consciousness.


“Behaviour” became a fundamental concept of Psychology due to the work of American and Russian Behaviourism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Behaviourism (in the words of J. B. Watson) held that:

“Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute” (1913).

Behaviourism was the dominant trend in psychology at the time that Vygotsky entered the field, and his views developed through a critique of Behaviourism and its Soviet variants. CHAT differs from Behaviourism because it bases itself on actions, which are a unity of behaviour and consciousness.


Behaviour is the objective aspect of activity, abstracting bodily movement from the consciousness which accompanies it, whilst, according to Vygotsky: “it is impossible to study human behaviour and the complex forms of human interrelated activity without reference to the human mind.” And the mind is, after all, the very subject matter of Psychology. Vygotsky admired the work of the Russian physiological behaviourist, I. V. Pavlov, and credited Pavlov for his consistent methodology in which a conditioned reflex was taken as the unit of analysis for behaviour.

However, Introspection plays only a subordinate role in Vygotsky’s psychology which relies on the observation of behaviour in order to reconstruct the psychological processes, by means of which alone human behaviour is comprehensible.

As Vygotsky pointed out, psychologists are in the same position as other scientists in including in their basic unit of analysis elements which are in principle unobservable:

“We should not forget that there are whole sciences that cannot study their subject through direct observation! The historian and the geologist reconstruct the facts (which already do not exist) indirectly, and nevertheless in the end they study the facts that have been, not the traces or documents that remained and were preserved. Similarly, the psychologist is often in the position of the historian and the geologist. Then he acts like a detective who brings to light a crime he never witnessed” (LSVCW, v. 1, p. 49).

In his “Development of Mind,” A. N. Leontyev traced the evolutionary development of activity (understood very broadly) from the behaviour of simple organisms which lack a central nervous system through operations to actions and ultimately, with the development of conceptual thinking, activity. Likewise, actions, operations and behaviour change change one into another in the course of ontogenesis and microgenesis.


Leontyev, A. N. (1947). The evolution of the Psyche in Animals, The Development of Mind, 2009.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1924). The Methods of Reflexological and Psychological Investigation. LSVCW v. 3, pp. 35–49.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1929). Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology, chapter 13, LSVCW, v. 3, pp. 310–332.

Watson, J. B. (1913). “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it.” Psychological Review, 20, 158–177.

-- AndyBlunden - 12 Nov 2013


Topic revision: r6 - 10 Oct 2014, AndyBlunden

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