The Science of Healthy Behaviors
sponsoring Institutes
Main Getting Started Teacher's Guide Student Activities About NIH
map | contact 
National Institutes of Health website National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) website Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) website

 

National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Nursing Research
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

The Science of Healthy Behaviors

Main    Getting Started    Teacher's Guide    Student Activities    About NIH

Map    Contact

Teacher's Guide hand using a mouse

Teacher's Guide

Lesson 1—Engage/Explore/Explain

Defining Behavior

At a Glance

photo of scientist  photo of a group of chimpanzees  photo of boy eating noodles

Overview

This lesson consists of one activity and should take one class period to complete. Students are introduced to the study of behavior and to observation as an important tool of behavioral and social scientists. After developing a definition of behavior, students view three video clips, observe behaviors, and participate in a class discussion. Students expand their understanding of behavior as it relates to health.

Major Concepts

Behavior is any activity an organism or group engages in, and it can be innate or learned. Behavior is studied by behavioral and social scientists. Scientists use a variety of tools to study behavior, including observation and animal models. Some studies occur in the laboratory, while others take place in natural settings. Some studies examine behavior in individuals, while others collect information about the behavior of groups. Understanding behavior is important because many behaviors have long- and short-term impacts on health. Improving health requires an understanding of what behaviors people engage in, why they engage in them, and what the health consequences of those behaviors are.

Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will

Teacher Background

See the following section in Information about the Science of Healthy Behaviors:

  1. 1 What Is Behavior?
  2. 2 Studying Behavior

In Advance

Web-Based Activities
Activity Web component?
1 Yes

Photocopies
Activity Master Number of copies
1 (Web version) Master 1.1, Observation Guide Sheet
Master 1.3, Health Outcomes of Behaviors
1 copy per student and 1 transparency
1 copy per student (optional) and 1 transparency
1 (print version) Master 1.2, Behavior Record
Master 1.3, Health Outcomes of Behaviors
1 copy per student and 1 transparency
1 copy per student (optional) and 1 transparency

Materials
Activity Materials
1 (Web and print versions)
  • None, other than photocopies and transparencies

Preparation

For classes using the Web-based version:

Reserve computers, if necessary. Make sure that Internet connections are working and that each computer has a functional sound card and speakers. If multiple computers are not available, project images from a single computer for the class.

For classes using the print version:

This version requires preplanning. Students must fill out a behavior-observation worksheet at least the day before beginning Activity 1. Alternatively, you can show the class a minute or two of a movie or television video that depicts a few different human behaviors.

Procedure

Activity 1: What Is Behavior? (Or, What Are You Doing?)

Web activity icon

For classes using the Web-based version of this activity:

  1. Divide the class into groups of two to four. Ask students, “What is behavior?”

Write key words from their definitions on the board and try to derive a consensus definition. Accept all responses. When you see that thinking is engaged, move on to the next step.

Note to teachers: Asking this question requires students to call on their prior knowledge and to engage their thinking. At this point, do not critique student responses. Appropriate teacher comments are short and positive, such as “good” and “what else?” Other appropriate teacher responses include, “Why do you believe that?” or “How do you know that?” Questions such as these allow you to assess current student knowledge about the subject and adjust lessons accordingly. They also provide a springboard to “Let’s find out” or “Let’s investigate.” In general, it’s time to move forward when you see that thinking has been engaged.

  1. Ask students
  • if they have ever heard of anyone who studies behavior in animals or people;
  • why scientists would study behavior; and
  • why studying animal behavior might be useful.

Students may suggest specific people, such as Sigmund Freud or Jane Goodall. Alternatively, they may name professions, such as psychologists or psychiatrists. If necessary, give some examples (see 2.4 Careers in Behavioral and Social Sciences in Information about the Science of Healthy Behaviors). Mention school counselors or popular media figures such as Dr. Phil.

Students may also need prompting on animal behavior studies. Suggest some familiar examples such as animal trainers (Siegfried and Roy) or highly trained working animals such as herding or guide dogs. Students may suggest that studying behavior is interesting, or that studying deviant behavior can help people understand and perhaps prevent it. Students may not realize the full value of animal models. They may understand that studying animals can be cheaper or more convenient. (See note below for more on animal models.) Keep this discussion brief. After introducing the idea of studying behaviors scientifically, move on to the next step.

Note to teachers: Studying animal behavior is useful on several levels. For example, many behaviors of nonhuman primates are similar to those of humans. Information derived from observing nonhuman primates can often be applied directly to humans. Some animals’ behaviors are much simpler than human’s, and these animals can be used to study behaviors that are too complex to understand in humans. For example, in one video that students will view, a rat in a special training environment learns to press a lever to receive food. It is much simpler for scientists to observe a rat in isolated and controlled circumstances than to study how people learn to perform tasks in their complex environments. Finally, humans are not good study subjects for many reasons. For example, humans cannot be kept in a controlled environment, and they reproduce and mature slowly. Also, some studies require treatments that would be unethical in humans. Many would argue that some treatments are unethical in animals as well. Others would cite the valuable knowledge gained from animal studies that benefit both humans and animals. In any case, try to steer students away from an ethics debate, which is beyond the scope of this material.

National Science Education Standards icon
Content Standard A:
Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.
  1. Explain to students that they will be visiting a behavioral and social science research institute to begin their training as social and behavioral scientists. They will be using observation as their tool for the study they will do. Give each student a copy of Master 1.1, Observation Guide Sheet.
  1. Have students go to the URL http://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/healthy/student. This is a main menu page from which student activities can be accessed. Click on “Lesson 1—Defining Behavior.”

During this activity, students are introduced to the fields of behavioral and social science. They view three video clips (about 30 seconds each) that demonstrate behaviors in humans, nonhuman primates, and a laboratory rat. The students enter the Behavioral Institute. Clicking on the “Faculty Listing” button introduces three members of the research faculty. Clicking on a faculty name takes the students to a brief description of that scientist’s research. After reading the research description, students click on “Proceed to video.” Students then watch a short video in the Flash window.

tip iconTip from the field test: Make sure students read the research descriptions. These provide a context for the videos and exposure to ways of doing science other than in a laboratory with test tubes and flasks.

  1. Ask students to click on the link to “Learning Behavior.” Allow students to watch the video and then demonstrate the use of Master 1.1, Observation Guide Sheet, using your transparency.

The guide includes a checklist for general categories of behavior as well as space for students to record their observations. In the video, a rat is seen exploring a Skinner box. Skinner boxes are named for a famous behavioral scientist, B.F. Skinner, and are used to study behaviors in a controlled environment. By examining complex behaviors in less-complex organisms, such as rats and pigeons, scientists can break down the components of behaviors to understand them better. Students will notice the rat exploring its new environment. To the left is a food dispenser, which the rat discovers. It then proceeds to eat the food. Every time the rat receives food, a green dot shows. In the next stage of the video, “Lever Press Required,” the rat has been trained to press the lever in the left foreground. Every time it presses the lever, more food appears in the food dispenser, as indicated by the green dot. The rat presses the lever, looks for food in the dispenser, eats it, and returns to the lever to earn more food.

tip iconTip from the field test: Using a computer linked to a classroom projector for the first video ensured more easily that the class understood what they were to do with the remaining two videos. This a good time to emphasize that students are only to observe behaviors, not analyze or interpret the reasons behind the behaviors.

  1. Ask students to view the other video clips and record their observations on their copy of Master 1.1, Observation Guide Sheet.

In the Adult Human Behavior video, students learn about behaviors by listening to as well as observing the characters. Enhancing their audio “observation” skills is as important as enhancing their visual observation skills. Different students will probably record different observations from each video. For example, in the Nonhuman Primate video, some students may observe grooming, while others observe a parent-offspring interaction. There are no “wrong” behaviors to observe; however, students should refrain from interpreting their observations. Students should list as many behaviors as possible in each video clip to test their observational skills. In the Adult Human Behavior video, students will use visual and audio observation, and implied behaviors (that is, behaviors that people in the video say they are going to do, such as go for a run, take a walk, eat lunch, and smoke a cigarette) should also be recorded. Therefore, for example, when one man says he is going to smoke a cigarette, students should record smoking as a behavior.

tip iconTip from the field test: Enforce a time limit (three to five minutes) for students to view and make careful observations about each video. This will allow both meaningful classroom discussion and completion of the lesson in one class period.

Note to teachers: A brief synopsis of each video is provided below.

Learning Behavior: (33 seconds) A rat is placed in a Skinner box, which is a tool designed to study learning behaviors, for the first time. The rat explores his surroundings by walking around, sniffing, and standing on his hind legs. He also finds the slot where food is delivered and eats the food. In the second half of the clip, the rat has been trained to push the lever on the side of the box to receive a food reward. After pushing the lever, the rat immediately looks for his food reward and eats it. He then repeats the behavior.

Nonhuman Primate Behavior: (32 seconds) In this clip, two young chimpanzees chase each other and wrestle. An adult, cuddling a baby, watches the two young chimps. Two other adults sitting next to the first adult are grooming one another. Although it is difficult to see, another adult plays with a young chimp swinging from a branch in the background.

Adult Human Behavior: (48 seconds) The clip opens with a man heating lunch in a microwave. There’s a close-up shot of his noodles. As he leaves the room, he passes two women who are carrying their lunches. The two women stop to admire each other’s lunches. One is a frozen meal, the other is a sandwich. Finally, two men stop by a cubicle where a woman is working at a computer. They tell her it’s lunch time, and one man asks if either of them wants to go for a run with him. The other man says he does not like running; he’s going to drive over to a restaurant to get some fried chicken. The woman declines, saying she is too busy to stop now, but may go for a walk later. A third man walks by and says he’d like to go for a run if the first man will wait while he smokes a cigarette.

  1. After students have made their observations, reconvene the class. Ask students to share their observations.

Use the transparency of the Master 1.1, Observation Guide Sheet, to record behaviors that were observed in each video clip.

  1. On the basis of the previous discussions, have students refine their definition of “behavior” if necessary.

Guide students to one general definition of behavior based on their observations.

Note to teachers: Behavior is a very broad term that includes virtually everything any individual or group does, whether instinctual or learned. The goal here is for students to realize that behavior is a very broad, inclusive term, and is not limited to deliberately “good” or “bad” actions.

  1. Ask students what outcomes (or consequences) can result from the behaviors they observed. Are these outcomes good or bad?

Student responses will vary. You may wish to begin with the Nonhuman Primate Behavior video. After surveying student observations, guide the class to the Adult Human Behavior video. Use observations from this video for the remainder of the lesson. If students do not suggest outcomes that relate to health, guide the discussion to include this idea. Some behaviors may have both positive and negative health outcomes. For example, a person might twist an ankle while running, but most of the time, they will be in better overall health because of the physical activity.

  1. Hand out Master 1.3, Health Outcomes of Behaviors. Ask students to identify which of the health-related outcomes (good and bad) are short-term (that is, the outcome will occur immediately or in the very near future)? Which of the health-related outcomes are long-term (that is, the outcome will occur sometime in the more distant future)?

Use an overhead of Master 1.3 to record student comments. Some behaviors may have both short-term and long-term consequences. For example, physical activity can improve cardiac (heart) health in the long term, but it may result in sore muscles or some injury in the short term. Some health consequences may be very subtle. In the Adult Human Behavior video, one person wants to smoke, which has an immediate physiological consequence of reaction to nicotine, which may feel good to the smoker but results in serious long-term outcomes. Poor diet, such as habitually eating high-fat-content fried foods, has long-term and short-term health effects. Poor diet can lead to lack of energy or susceptibility to diseases. Long-term problems occur with increasing weight and lack of essential nutrients. The table below offers some suggestions for prompting students.

Behavior Poor Short-Term Health Outcome Good Short-Term Health Outcome Poor Long-Term Health Outcome Good Long-Term Health Outcome
Smoking Negligible Feel good Lung cancer, decreased lung capacity None
Exercise Injury Have fun, feel good Negligible Improved overall health, more energy
Eating a Poor Diet Lack of energy, increased risk of illness Possible weight loss with low caloric intake Overweight or underweight, increased susceptibility to illness None
  1. Ask students for their ideas about why the behaviors they observed in the videos occurred. For example, why would an adult go for a run at lunch time?

Students may suggest very specific reasons and outcomes. Separate these two concepts in lists on the board. Bring the students back to the two lists and guide them to general category descriptions that recognize reasons and outcomes as separate concepts. In Lesson 2, students will investigate why people behave in certain ways.

  1. Ask students why it would be important to understand the reasons people behave the way they do.

Students may realize that in order to modify a behavior, understanding the reasons for the behavior is critical. Use this idea of the reasons behind behaviors to lead into Lesson 2, in which students explore factors that influence behavior.

print activity iconFor classes using the print version of this activity:

  1. The day before you begin this lesson, give each student a copy of Master 1.2, Behavior Record. Explain to students that they will begin their training as social and behavioral scientists. They will be using observation as their tool for this study.

Have students use the remainder of their day at school and their time at home that evening to fill in the chart. They should bring their completed chart to the next class session. Explain that they have some flexibility in the situations they observe, and that they do not need to make extensive observations. There is no right or wrong set of observations to make. Do not get into a discussion of what behavior is. If students ask for a definition of behavior, ask them to think about it as they make their observations of what people are doing in different situations.

  1. The following day, begin class by asking students, “What is behavior?”

Write key words from their definitions on the board and try to derive a consensus definition. Accept all responses. When you see that thinking is engaged, move on to the next step.

Note to teachers: Asking this question requires students to call on their prior knowledge and to engage their thinking. At this point, do not critique student responses. Appropriate teacher comments are short and positive, such as “good” and “what else?” Other appropriate teacher responses include, “Why do you believe that?” or “How do you know that?” Questions such as these allow you to assess current student knowledge about the subject and adjust lessons accordingly. They also provide a springboard to “Let’s find out” or “Let’s investigate.” In general, it’s time to move forward when you see that thinking has been engaged.

National Science Education Standards icon
Content Standard A:
Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.
  1. Ask students

Students may suggest specific people, such as Sigmund Freud or Jane Goodall. Alternatively, they may name professions, such as psychologists or psychiatrists. If necessary, give some examples (see 2.4 Careers in Behavioral and Social Sciences in Information about The Science of Healthy Behaviors). Mention school counselors or popular media figures such as Dr. Phil.

Students may also need prompting on animal behavior studies. Suggest some familiar examples such as animal trainers (Siegfried and Roy) or highly trained working animals such as herding or guide dogs. Students may suggest that studying behavior is interesting, or that studying deviant behavior can help people understand and perhaps prevent it. Students may not realize the full value of animal models. They may understand that studying animals can be cheaper or more convenient. (See note below for more on animal models.) Keep this discussion brief. After introducing the idea of studying behaviors scientifically, move on to the next step.

Note to teachers: Studying animal behavior is useful on several levels. For example, many behaviors of nonhuman primates are similar to those of humans. Information derived from observing nonhuman primates can often be applied directly to humans. Some animals’ behaviors are much simpler than human’s, and these animals can be used to study behaviors that are too complex to understand in humans. For example, in one video that students will view, a rat in a special training environment learns to press a lever to receive food. It is much simpler for scientists to observe a rat in isolated and controlled circumstances than to study how people learn to perform tasks in their complex environments. Finally, humans are not good study subjects for many reasons. For example, humans cannot be kept in a controlled environment, and they reproduce and mature slowly. Also, some studies require treatments that would be unethical in humans. Many would argue that some treatments are unethical in animals as well. Others would cite the valuable knowledge gained from animal studies that benefit both humans and animals. In any case, try to steer students away from an ethics debate, which is beyond the scope of this material.

  1. Ask students to refer to their completed Master 1.2, Behavior Record. Ask them to share their observations for each of the situations listed.

Focus on behaviors observed by the students, rather than on time, location, or who was present. Use the transparency of the Master 1.2, Behavior Record, or write on the board to show what behaviors were observed in different situations.

  1. Ask students what basic needs these behaviors may have met.

Responses may indicate common and important needs, such as obtaining food and nourishment, finding shelter, communicating, social bonding, protecting oneself, and exercising or building strength and physical skills.

  1. On the basis of the previous discussion, have students refine their definition of “behavior,” if necessary.

Guide students to one general definition using their observations.

Note to teachers: Behavior is a very broad term that includes virtually everything any individual or group does, whether instinctual or learned. The goal here is for students to realize that behavior is a very broad, inclusive term, and is not limited to deliberately “good” or “bad” actions.

  1. Ask students what outcomes (or consequences) can result from the behaviors they observed. Are these outcomes good or bad?

Student responses will vary. For example, students may observe that friends help each other, or that someone cooking dinner was providing necessary food. If students do not suggest outcomes that relate to health, guide the discussion to include this idea. Some behaviors may have both positive and negative health outcomes. For example, a person might receive an injury playing sports, but they will enjoy playing with friends and be in better overall health because of the physical activity.

  1. Hand out Master 1.3, Health Outcomes of Behaviors. Ask students to identify which of the health-related outcomes (good and bad) are short-term (that is, the outcome will occur immediately or in the very near future). Which of the health-related outcomes are long-term (that is, the outcome will occur sometime in the more distant future)?

Guide students to recognize short-term and long-term health outcomes of different behaviors. Use an overhead of Master 1.3 to record student comments. Some behaviors may have both short-term and long-term consequences. For example, physical activity can improve cardiac (heart) health in the long term, but it may result in sore muscles or some injury in the short term. Try to keep the discussion moving along the lines of likely health outcomes and not improbable ones. Guide students away from unlikely scenarios, such as walking home could lead to someone’s twisting an ankle or being hit by a bus. Some health consequences may be very subtle. For example, students may not recognize the long-term health benefits of having a strong social network. The table below offers some suggestions for prompting students.

Behavior Poor Short-Term Health Outcome Good Short-Term Health Outcome Poor Long-Term Health Outcome Good Long-Term Health Outcome
Smoking Negligible Feel good Lung cancer, decreased lung capacity None
Exercise Injury Have fun, feel good Negligible Improved overall health, more energy
Eating a Poor Diet Lack of energy, increased risk of illness Possible weight loss with low caloric intake Overweight or underweight, increased susceptibility to illness None
  1. Have students discuss their ideas about why the behaviors they observed occurred. For example, why would someone cook a meal? Why would friends talk to each other?

Students may suggest very specific reasons and outcomes. Separate these two concepts in lists on the board. Bring the students back to the two lists and guide them to general category descriptions that recognize reasons and outcomes as different concepts. In Lesson 2, students will investigate why people behave in certain ways.

  1. Ask students why it would be important to understand the reasons people behave they way they do.

Students may realize that in order to modify a behavior, understanding the reasons for the behavior is critical. Use this idea of the reasons the behavior occurs to lead into Lesson 2, in which students explore factors that influence behavior.

Web activity icon Lesson 1 Organizer: Web Version
Activity 1: What Is Behavior? (Or, What Are You Doing?)
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Divide the class into groups of two to four. Facilitate a class discussion. Focus on the following questions:

  • What is behavior?
  • Have you ever heard of anyone who studies behavior in animals or people?
  • Why would scientists study behavior?
  • Why might studying animal behavior be useful?
Steps 1 and 2

Explain to students that they will visit a behavioral and social science research institute to begin training as a social and behavioral scientist. Give each student one copy of Master 1.1, Observation Guide Sheet.

master iconStep 3

Have students log onto the Web site and click on “Lesson 1—Defining Behavior.”

Web activity iconStep 4

Instruct groups to click on the “Learning Behavior” link and watch the video. Demonstrate the use of Master 1.1, Observation Guide Sheet.

transparency iconStep 5
Instruct groups to view the other videos and record their observations on Master 1.1. Step 6

Reconvene the class. Have students share their observations. Ask students whether they refined their definition of behavior and, if so, how.

Steps 7 and 8

Ask students,

  • “What outcomes (or consequences) can result from the observed behaviors?”
  • “Are these outcomes good or bad?”
Step 9

Give each student a copy of Master 1.3, Health Outcomes of Behaviors.

  • Display a transparency of Master 1.3.
  • Instruct students to identify which health-related outcomes are short-term and which are long-term.
master iconStep 10

transparency icon

Ask students,

  • “Why did the observed behaviors occur?”
  • “Why might it be important to understand the reasons people behave as they do?”
Steps 11 and 12
master icon= Involves copying a master.
transparency icon= Involves making a transparency.
Web activity icon= Involves using the Internet.

print activity iconLesson 1 Organizer: Print Version
Activity 1: What Is Behavior? (Or, What Are You Doing?)
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

The day before beginning the lesson, give each student one copy of Master 1.2, Behavior Record. Explain to students that they will begin their training as social and behavioral scientists.

master iconStep 1

Begin the lesson by facilitating a class discussion. Focus on the following questions:

  • What is behavior?
  • Have you ever heard of anyone who studies behavior in animals or people?
  • Why would scientists study behavior?
  • Why might studying animal behavior be useful?

Steps 2 and 3

Display a transparency of Master 1.2, Behavior Record. Ask students to share their observations of each situation and write them on the transparency.

transparency iconStep 4

Ask students to identify the basic needs that each behavior may have met.

Step 5

Ask students if they have refined their definition of behavior and, if so, how.

Step 6

Ask students,

  • “What outcomes (or consequences) can result from the observed behaviors?”
  • “Are these outcomes good or bad?”
Step 7

Give each student one copy of Master 1.3, Health Outcomes of Behaviors.

  • Display a transparency of Master 1.3.
  • Instruct students to identify which health-related outcomes are short-term and which are long-term.
master iconStep 8

transparency icon

Ask students,

  • “Why did the observed behaviors occur?”
  • “Why might it be important to understand the reasons people behave as they do?”
Steps 9 and 10
master icon= Involves copying a master.
transparency icon= Involves making a transparency.

Return to Lesson Plans