Behavioral science is concerned with human actions, and since behavior is influenced so importantly by people and social settings, the behavioral and social sciences are very closely related. The scientific study of behavior developed in a formal way in the 19th century, and research in the behavioral sciences now makes use of a variety of different research methods that rely on both observation and description as well as statistical modeling and experimentation. The development and testing of general theories that explain behavior is a priority for research that studies social function, development, individual variation, and the various social and biological contexts of behavior.
The core disciplines that contribute to behavioral science include anthropology, psychology, and sociology, but many other disciplines also play an important role, such as the behavioral aspects of biology, economics, geography, law, psychology, and political science. Although behavioral and social scienceshave a distinctive focus, considerable overlap may blur the distinctions. Anthropology studies people and their society, but presently and historically;sociology addresses questions that focus on social relations and the essential nature of society. Psychology focuses on mental and cognitive processes ofindividuals, but ultimately the interdisciplinary links between anthropology,sociology, and psychology are crucial.
Over the course of the 20th century causes of premature death and disabilityhave been changing, and the behavioral and social factors that influence these changes take on added importance. Technological innovation, migration, andcivil strife have each contributed to the development of new areas and priorities in medicine, such as occupational health, international health, and specialized health care for migrants and refugees. Environmental factors, chronicdisease, and violence each present specialized challenges for health care professionals. With the development and legitimacy of public health, primary preventionof disease and health promotion also become more important.
Behavior may be a key factor in determining risk for becoming ill and the various ways that people seek help for their health problems. Smoking, sexual promiscuity, diet, risk taking, and other factors under the broad heading of lifestyle may increase the chance of a person acquiring lung cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, diabetes, and other illness. Behavior may also affect risk for acquiring infectious diseases. For example, poor sanitation and hygiene make some people susceptible to diarrhea; in contrast, people try in different ways to protect themselves from insects or animals that may transmit disease. Behavioral and social sciences consider how people and societies place themselves at risk for or protect themselves from disease.
Basic research in behavioral and social sciences is not so concerned as epidemiology (the study of patterns of disease in a population) with the relationship of risk factors and disease outcomes, but rather more concerned with theprocesses that influence risk and protection, and how they operate. It examines the behavioral, psychological, and social processes, such as emotion, motivation, and language development, that contribute to health and disease. Studies under the heading "biopsychosocial" research focus on the interdisciplinary interactions between biology and either social or behavioral principles. Psychoneuroimmunology and behavioral cardiology are examples. Another basic research interest examines and develops ways of measuring and analyzing behavior and mental function. Neuropsychological assessment of people's compliance with medical treatment indicates the practical value of applied interests in the field.
The behavioral and social sciences are especially concerned with the questionof how specific behavioral and social factors are linked to mental and physical health outcomes (that is, whether a person becomes better or worse), andthe ways in which they are related. It also examines the effects of illness or physical condition on human behavior and social relationships. This focus helps to design and evaluate behavioral and social ways of treating a varietyof mental and physical diseases and disorders. It also helps to formulate notonly strategies for health promotion and disease prevention but also to consider the impact of changes in the structure of health services. Specialty areas of biological and pharmacological research on treatment interventions arebecoming more concerned with the behavioral aspects of outcome in their evaluation of these interventions.
Study of behavioral science may provide good training for jobs that require an understanding of the way people act, including administrative, service, orprofessional positions. For scientists, it also provides a means of taking into account the interactions of behavior and biology, both the practical questions and the scientific issues that researchers try to explain.