An introduction to mechanical behavior science
“Mechanical” behavior science refers to the mechanics of behavior, which obeys finite natural laws with predictable patterns. If behavior is dysfunctional, it can be predictably converted to healthy behavior when one understands the mechanics involved in that conversion. Then, the medical benefits of healthy behavior become dependable. All benefits of behavior-oriented methods come from healthy behavior. The following is a simplified introduction to behavior mechanics, which can be rendered in concrete terms and corroborated by personal experience.
Behavior is the expression of various impulses, which are generated spontaneously throughout the human organism. For example, thinking, noticing, expressing emotion, and walking across the room all begin with an impulse. Therefore, expression of impulse can be internal (lacking overt body movement), involuntary (lacking conscious decision), and local (occurring in a small area of the body). These details provide a language that describes countless behavior events in medicine, relationships, etc.
Behavior impulses are expressed literally every moment of life. Even when the body sleeps, it’s expressing the impulse to rest. Impulses to rest, eat, relieve pain, and scratch an itch are all physical comfort impulses. Humans possess nine distinct categories of behavior impulse, or behavior functions, one of which is the physical comfort function. Sleep is one of many aspects of the comfort function.
The human organism (i.e. awareness plus body) is designed for effective expression of impulse, which permits survival, health, and happiness. Effective expression therefore equals healthy behavior, while chronically ineffective expression equals dysfunctional behavior. Dysfunctional behavior is a type of self-regulation that serves a distinct purpose deemed necessary by an organism with chronic problems. In other words, all behavior is self-regulation—expression of impulse for specific reasons, serving specific functions.
Since all behavior—both health and dysfunction—serves the same nine functions, impulse must be distinguished from its expression. The same impulse can go in either direction—either health or dysfunction—according to the organism’s perceived needs. This theoretical separation of impulse from its expression is essential to dependable conversion of dysfunction to health. When stuck in dysfunctional behavior, the organism simply needs conditions that support effective expression of the underlying impulse—the underlying function of that behavior. If adequately supportive conditions are obtained, the impulse immediately changes direction to effective expression. I call this the spontaneous conversion of behavior impulse. Everyone witnesses daily this mysterious self-regulation event, whenever better conditions appear and better feelings result.
For example, a distressed woman attempts to self-regulate by “connecting” with others (contact function) on a particularly stressful day. However, her need to feel safe (safety function) prevents her from enjoying chitchat with coworkers. They would describe her as “prickly”—actually preventing productive interaction. She finally meets with a trusted friend who consistently supported their healthy interactions before. Both her safety function and contact function reach out to her friend. She feels safe enough to enjoy a satisfying, meaningful conversation that relieves her stress. The next day, her prickly attitude disappears from her exchanges with coworkers.
What happened? Although her safety and contact functions were both active and “needy,” her safety function was predominant. Her need for safety outweighed her need for emotional contact, therefore she could not obtain contact without first satisfying the safety need. Whatever support she derived from her coworkers was inadequate for her level of need on this particular day; she needed more potent support for her safety function. She could not control her prickly, counterproductive behavior because 1) her stress level overwhelmed her own, internal capacity to support herself, and 2) there was inadequate support from coworkers and their work environment. But then, with strong external support from her friend, she involuntarily reached out with effective behavior that satisfied both safety and contact needs. (In other words, “emotional needs” are actually behavior needs—needs to take action.) The next day, her stress level was lower, allowing her to effectively interact with coworkers as well.
Spontaneous conversion of behavior impulse is an involuntary event, which means that behavior is self-regulating. Every body system, such as digestive and immune systems, is self-regulating, which means that it responds involuntarily to the conditions offered. Therefore, behavior is literally a body system, intimately connected to the body via the autonomic nervous system. Simply put, behavior determines one’s state of stress or relaxation, which in turn influences digestion, immunity, etc.
Importantly, as illustrated above, the conscious mind is not required for behavior conversion. The mind itself is expression of a contact impulse—merely one of many aspects of the contact function. All functions remain aware and operable regardless of the activity in one’s “mind.” Therefore, one can reach out for safety, produce boundaries, reject dogmas, and enjoy human contact without thought or dialogue—even when half asleep on a treatment table. These are organism functions, separate from the mind. The mind is one of many types of awareness. The overemphasis on conscious awareness is a major flaw of today’s psychotherapy methods in general.
A telltale indication of spontaneous conversion is a positive change in one’s emotions. Emotion is a highly evolved monitoring device that 1) informs the organism of its behavior efficacy, and 2) signals a desire or need for the next behavior. Emotion stimulates generation of the next impulse, anywhere in the body, to serve the active behavior function. Thus, “behavior” consists of three distinct components: 1) the impulse to act, 2) the action itself, and 3) emotional reaction. All three components occur continuously and simultaneously, giving the impression that they are a single event. Nevertheless, they are separate elements. When adequate support is obtained, the impulse is intercepted before it’s expressed with ineffective action. Then, the involuntary response to effective action is a positive emotional state—relaxation, self-esteem, trust, feeling of empowerment, etc. Therefore, the complete mechanical definition of “behavior” is expression of impulse that immediately changes (or maintains) the emotional state. This definition neatly distinguishes behavior impulses from biological body impulses, such as peristalsis, that don’t change one’s emotional state.
All medicine supports native body intelligence, i.e. self-regulation functions that know how to use supportive procedures for healing. All self-regulation functions can be categorized as either biological or behavioral. The first effect of purely biological functions is a change in biology, followed by a delayed improvement in emotional state. The first effect of behavior functions is a change in emotional state, followed by various biological benefits. The chronological order of biological and behavioral effects identifies the type of body function—and therefore also the system—targeted by the procedure.
procedure → target function → 1st effect → 2nd effect
Some methods, such as massage and acupuncture, contain elements of both medicine types. Similarly, a doctor’s “bedside manner” is a separate treatment for behavior, which can be more effective for biological pathology than the biological procedure, as documented by various medical authors. If a practitioner understands the mechanics involved in eliciting healthy behavior, then the behavior component of any procedure can be perfected, for optimal benefit. Medical benefits become dependable to the extent that the practitioner masters behavior support.
Identification of all nine behavior functions is essential to achieving optimal medical responses. To illustrate, “mind/body medicine” typically targets two of the nine behavior functions, namely contact (awareness plus emotional connection) and imagery. The imagery function gives us the placebo effect, medical hypnosis, and countless more invaluable options. However, there are eight more behavior functions, each equally powerful when the body needs effective expression in those departments. The Arneson Method of Guided Relaxation may be the only example of truly holistic behavior support currently existing, which accounts for its long list of medical discoveries. That being said, other methods offer different specialties, depending on which behavior functions are emphasized, and how they’re supported.
We have countless behavior methods—in psychotherapy, human potential/self-help, mind/body medicine, and manipulation/body therapies—all of which unknowingly target the same nine behavior functions. The behavior system model 1) elucidates the mechanics of each method, and 2) lights the way for systematic, educated exploration. The current guessing game approach to research and development is unnecessary. Also, by unifying all behavior methods with a single, mechanical infrastructure, the model informs a new field of medicine that is much larger than any individual method. That new field can be accurately termed “emotional medicine” for the first effect of behavior procedures. Access to biological self-regulation via effective behavior. It's the science of eliciting healthy behavior.