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René Van Someren

Explaining Human Behaviour: Thought to Behaviour (TTB)

Posted August 1, 2016
Adapted from: Source: "Van Someren, R., 2016, Fundamentals of Organisations, The Hague, Van Someren, ISBN/EAN: 789079641109"


Human behaviour, its causes and the desire to predict and manipulate it, have intrigued humans all over the world throughout history and most likely far beyond that. Still, since ancient philosophers such as Epictetus and Plato expressed their ideas on this matter, many scientists have studied this subject without truly reaching consensus on how to best explain or manipulate human behaviour.

Notwithstanding my deepest respect and appreciation for all scholars who worked to deepen insight into these subjects, I had the audacity to design my own conceptual framework, Thought to Behaviour (TTB), to explain human behaviour.

Rather than giving a scholarly disquisition on TTB,* I shall try to explain it here as follows.

Thought to Behaviour (TTB)

Objects of Thought

According to TTB, the source initiators of human behaviour are Objects Of Thought. Objects of Thought (OOT) can be anything that comes to mind, but they are only source initiators of human behaviour, when an actor deems them relevant immediately prior to, or during acting.

One example of an Object of Thought is a sign on a lawn.

One can have many different thoughts about any subject. None of these thoughts may directly cause someone to behave a certain way.

Objects of Thought can be interpreted differently, from person to person, from time to time and from situation to situation.

Mental aptitude determines the ability to interpret. Interpretation and variation of interpretation are less in those with little mental aptitude, such as babies and those with mental deficiencies.

Relative to human behaviour, main interpretative aspects of any object of thought are allocative and authoritative, respectively serving to determine the function of the object of thought and consequences of (not) observing the determined function. For instance, a sign may indicate that a certain patch of grass is allocated as an area one is not to walk on. Ignoring that allocation may elicit a fine from a local authority or being told off by mom.

Ones personal interpretation of an Object of Thought is the first derivative of that OOT.

Interpretations do not determine human behaviour. For instance, someone may interpret a sign as an explicit ban to walk on a certain lawn, but decide to walk on it, nevertheless.

What determines human behaviour most, is ones subjective attitude towards ones own interpretation of an object of thought. Such an attitude can be regarded as the extent to which an individual accepts the OOT to be as he or she has interpreted it (adopted OOT). [Here, the word ‘attitude’ refers to attitudes of mind, defined as: “adopted or habitual mode of regarding the object of thought” (Oxford English Dictionary, 1969, Vol. I: 553).]

The main manifestations of attitude are: affection, facilitation and assertion.

  • affection relates to likes and dislikes with regard to ones personal interpretation;
  • facilitation relates to perceived advantages and disadvantages of the object of thought, as one has interpreted this to be (benefit);
  • assertion refers to a confidence-building attitude towards ones interpretation of the object of thought, purposed to minimise uncertainty.

An example of attitudes one may have towards ones interpretation of a clear ban from walking on a certain lawn is as follows.
  1. I do not like being banned from walking on the lawn. (affection)
  2. Crossing the lawn saves me time and effort when going from A to B. (facilitation)
  3. Many other people walk on this same lawn. (assertion)

Since attitude derives from ones own interpretation of a certain OOT, attitude is considered as the second derivative of the pertaining OOT.

It is easy to imagine that someone might adopt quite different attitudes towards an interpretation in which (potential) consequences are carefully thought through than when believing one can act with impunity.

Attitude determines human behaviour. Circumstance and skills affect the outcome of human behaviour.

Evaluating outcomes of ones behaviour may lead to adjustment of ones earlier interpretation of the pertaining Object of Thought.

The attitude adopted towards the new interpretation may differ from the old attitude towards the previous interpretation. This different attitude may lead to different future behaviour.

Outcome evaluation may also directly lead to altering ones attitude towards ones interpretation, even when this interpretation remains the same. For instance, someone who, despite the ban, would step onto the lawn, immediately slips and falls onto dog droppings, making a spectacle of himself, might walk around the lawn in the future.

Multiple tiers

As stated earlier, attitude determines human behaviour. However, one can have multiple attitudes towards ones interpretation of one object of thought. Those attitudes may reinforce, complement, or contradict one another. The most dominating attitude will determine human behaviour most.

Walking on a lawn despite a clear ban, as mentioned above, is an example of multiple, mutually reinforcing attitudes towards one interpretation of an OOT.

Furthermore, an individual may deem multiple objects of thought relevant immediately prior to, or during acting. Consequentially, there will be multiple attitudes towards personal interpretations of all those OOTs competing with one another. The outcome of this competition will determine that individual’s behaviour.

Example 1
Imagine a drug addict sneaking into his parental home, intent on stealing money from his poor, elderly, widowed mother, with the purpose of buying drugs later. This individual may have several objects of thought, such as:
  • Quit taking drugs;
  • Wish to buy drugs quickly;
  • Steal money from mother;
  • Motherly love;
  • Try to get money from elsewhere.

He may interpret these OOTs, for example, as:
  • An impossibility; new attempts will fail just as previous ones failed;
  • Function: fill addictive need; consequence: brief satisfaction;
  • Easy access to money, knowing where his mother keeps her money;
  • Mothers should care for their children; consequentially: stealing money from his mother is just;
  • A difficult and risky enterprise; he may get caught or otherwise end up worse than he currently is.

Not to make this article unnecessarily lengthy, I invite readers to use their own imagination with regard to possible attitudes towards those interpretations. Here, I shall only illustrate an example of the relative strength of competing attitudes as follows.

Resulting behaviour: In this fictional example, resulting from the outcome of competing attitudes, this individual walked towards the cupboard where he knew his mother kept her purse.


One can adopt the same attitudes repeatedly or habitually. This can even occur to such a degree that those attitudes seem permanent. Nevertheless, attitudes can be transient, and they often are.

Just as the drug addict in our previous example opened the cupboard to steal his mother’s last bit of money, from the corner of his eyes, he saw his poor old mom standing in the kitchen. She wept silently, her head bowed; opened purse in one hand, its contents clenched in the other, ready to hand it all to her son. The son walked towards the elderly lady, stretched out his hand, past his fragile mother, grabbed the door handle behind her and walked out.

The new information (the unexpected presence of his mother) caused the man to revise his earlier interpretations of the pertaining OOTs, subsequently adopting other attitudes than he had before.

Relevance and External Validity

Proper understanding of human behaviour and of how human behaviour comes about, can serve in all sorts of disciplines such as marketing, leadership, education, rehabilitation, security, politics and health care.

I propose that TTB applies to all human behaviour. Several fellow researchers from various countries have joined me in researching various applications of TTB and the first findings seem to support this proposition. Publications in scientific journals are forthcoming.

*Content of this posting is taken from:

Van Someren, R., 2016, Fundamentals of Organisations, The Hague, Van Someren, ISBN/EAN: 789079641109

Van Someren, R., 2014, Aptitude and Attitude as Constraints and Enablers in Organisation Development: An Elementary Model of Organisational Processes, The Hague, Van Someren, ISBN/EAN: 9789079641086

Dr. René Van Someren’s personal website is:


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