Overt behavior

A behavior is
1) any response(s) made by an organism,
2) specifically, parts of a total response pattern,
3) an act or activity, and
4) a movement or complex movements (Atkinson, Berne and Woodworth, 1987).


In the narrower sense, behavior is the observable action of an organism, which brings change to the environment to at least some degree. This study of behavior, in psychology, falls under Behaviorism, also referred to as Behavioral psychology. But there is considerable divergence of opinion as to precisely what ought to be included under the category of behavior. In broader sense, behavior should also include unobservable actions.

There are two types of behavior.

Here, we are going to discuss about Overt Behavior.

Overt Behavior

The word ‘overt’ can be defined as something that is plainly apparent and openly displayed. The term overt behavior means just that. The observable behaviors such as walking, talking, laughing, which can be seen readily are categorized as overt behavior.
kid showing teeth and laughing as a sign of overt behavior

Many psychologists and behaviorists argue that only overt behaviors can be classified under behaviors as a whole, and any behaviors unobservable cannot qualify as behaviors. This theory has been tagged as narrow definition of behavior.

Cooper, Heron, and Heward proposed certain conditions in order to recognize a phenomenon as behavior. The conditions were:

  1. That to be considered a behavior there must be an observable movement shown by an organism.
  2. That there must be an observable alteration in the environment as a result of the movement.

American psychologists generally agree that the subject matter of psychology is largely the observable behavior of humans and other species of animals. The individuals, who study overt behaviors, or human behaviors, classify the observable actions by form, intensity, duration and frequency. Any and all observable behaviors such as whispering, walking, yawning and jumping are overt behaviors. Behaviorists analyze these observable actions to recognize the person’s feelings, emotions and mental conditions.

Regardless of stimulus, any action such as laughter, rage, or activities like throwing off a desk, hitting someone, the behaviors that can be observed are overt behaviors. Observation and study of these behaviors helps behaviorists and psychologists to understand the core of the person, the inner feelings.

For instance, if a person is observed to be yawning, it can be hypothesized that the person is either bored or sleepy. Likewise, anger, frustration and other emotions can also be observed by analyzing the overt behaviors.