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Systems Perspective and Social Behavioral Perspective

Updated November 17, 2021
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Systems Perspective and Social Behavioral Perspective essay

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Essentials of Human Behavior: Integrating Person, Environment, and the Life Course by Elizabeth D. Hutchison (2017) describes eight extensive perspectives of human behavior, with each perspective encompassing many theories within it. Although the perspectives each have ways in which they are similar, they also have ways in which they are highly contrasting. This paper will consider three of the perspectives: systems perspective, social behavioral perspective, and social constructionist perspective.

First, systems perspective and social behavioral perspective will be explained as well as what I find agreeable about social behavioral perspective. Systems perspective and social behavioral perspective will then be compared. Next, social constructionist perspective will be described and what I find challenging about this perspective. Systems perspective and social constructionist perspective will be compared. Lastly, I will describe what I find to be missing from these three perspectives.

A Brief Explanation of Systems Theory

The first theoretical perspective introduced in the text is systems perspective. This perspective emphasizes how the interactions within the various environments in which a person or group is intertwined in shape their behavior. This perspective has been derived from a variety of disciplines which began to look at “phenomena as the outcome of interactions within and among systems” (Hutchison, p. 32, 2017). Within each system there can be smaller subsystems, and each individual plays a role in said system.

Systems receive input, which can be in the form of energy, information, or communication, and then process this information into output (Norlin & Chess, 1997). General systems theory identified closed systems and open systems. Closed systems are detached from other systems, and open systems are continuously interacting with other systems. Feedback mechanisms were also emphasized by general systems theory. They were described as helping to maintain balance and generate change within and between systems (Hutchison, 2017).

Many other theories surfaced within the systems perspective as extensions of systems theory. These theories attempt to look at systems theory through a more contemporary lens. Risk and resilience theory, which considers risk factors and protective factors in both an individual and the greater environment to aggravate and mitigate possible outcomes. Chaos theory introduces negative and positive feedback loops, which are thought to help regulate a system and produce change. One area of systems perspective that is disagreed upon by social work scholars is in defining boundaries.

Some scholars feel that boundaries between different systems are clear, while others feel that membership of a system is not clear. This is described by fuzzy set theory which, in relation to social work, states that an individual can be a member of different systems to certain degrees. Both deep ecology and globalization theories further develop this idea and emphasize openness within systems (Hutchison, 2017).

Compatible Perspective: Social Behavioral Perspective

A perspective that I have found to align well with my previous education and life experiences is social behavioral perspective. I originally learned about this perspective in a sociology of deviant behavior course. This perspective finds that human behavior is learned by people through interactions with their various environments.

This perspective has been broken down into three different theories which all present a distinct way of how humans learn behavior. The first theory is classical conditioning theory, which proposes that people learn when a naturally occurring stimulus is matched up with a neutral stimulus (Hutchison, 2017). The second theory, operant conditioning theory, finds that behavior is a result of reinforcement. Undesirable behavior is weakened by negative consequences, while desirable behaviors are strengthened by positive consequences (Hutchison, 2017).

The final theory that makes up social behavioral perspective is cognitive social learning theory. This theory considers human behavior as a learned outcome of observation, mimicry, beliefs, and expectation. Individuals are thought to play active roles in the molding of their behaviors through cognitive processes. It is also believed that human behavior is mainly influenced by a person’s self-efficacy, which is their personal sense of determination, and their efficacy expectation, which is the expectations a person has of themselves to reach an objective.

This theory was taken a step further by introducing the idea of agency, which is the ability of a person to make things happen for themselves through making their own independent choices. Agency gets broken down even further into three different models: personal agency for that individual, proxy agency which entails an individual influencing other people to make changes for them, and collective agency, where people work as a team to achieve a mutual goal (Hutchison, 2017).

There are many aspects of social behavioral perspective that align well with my growing knowledge of human behavior and life experiences. The ideas that individuals are capable of learning behavior using cognitive processes and that humans are also capable of making things happen for themselves are aspects of this perspective that I have found to be missing from other perspectives. I appreciate the role of the individual within this perspective. Although I do agree with the fact that we all learn from each other within society, I believe everyone is different and will take information in and process it in their own way leading to various outcomes. I also strongly agree with the firm idea of social behavioral theorists that “behaviors can be defined, measured, and changed”. (Hutchison, p. 50, 2017). In my opinion, this ideal reinforces the importance of generalist social work practice.

Comparing Systems Perspective with Social Behavioral Perspective

There are certain aspects of social behavioral perspective that can be compared with systems perspective. Positive and negative feedback loops discussed by systems theory are comparable to the positive and negative consequences that reinforce behavior discussed in cognitive social learning theory. Both aspects of the theories emphasize the role of stimulus influencing behavior and producing change. Negative consequences, just like negative feedback, call for corrective action. Another aspect of social behavioral perspective that is comparable to systems perspective is that of the autopoietic system.

This means that a system is individually constructed and emulated. The idea of an autopoietic system relates to the idea of agency in that they both see the individual as playing an active role in the decision-making process. Overall, the foundational idea behind both systems perspective and social behavioral perspective are similar.

Both perspectives place great importance on an individual’s different environments, or systems, and how the interaction between the individual and these environments influences the formation of human behavior. There are also ways in that systems perspective and social behavioral perspective differ. Social behavioral perspective goes on to place emphasis on how the individual plays a role in the learning of human behavior, whereas systems perspective focuses on the external complex forces among environments that influence learned behavior. Another way the two perspectives differ is in defining environments.

Systems perspective emphasizes boundaries within a system, meaning who is a part of the group and who is not. This perspective also includes fuzzy set theory, which is the idea that the boundaries of systems are often blurred, and that one person could be a member of different systems to a certain level. This is something that social behavioral perspective does not place emphasis on. The emphasis of social behavioral perspective is on the different ways that the individual learns behavior from these different systems (Hutchison, 2017).

Challenging Perspective: Social Constructionist Perspective

A perspective that I have struggled with is social constructionist perspective. This perspective finds that people construct their “social world”, their self-definition and sense of meaning through interactions with one another (Hutchison, p. 40, 2017). People learn to organize the world and their role in it through social interactions, and these interactions are based upon communal meanings. Through this process, individuals develop an understanding of how the world functions and base their forthcoming social interactions on this understanding. Social constructionist perspective was partially built off the ideas of symbolic interaction theory, which finds that through interactions with one another, humans develop symbols which have different meanings attached to them. These symbols are used to then create both independent and shared social histories (Hutchison, 2017). This perspective also emphasizes that there is no one objective reality; since everyone’s reality is based on their personal perception, no one objective reality can exist (Teaters & Condrat, 2010).

I find this perspective challenging in several ways. First, it does not address the fact that some human knowledge is based off observations of things that are not created by another human, such as the physical environment and forces of nature. Social constructionist perspective also emphasizes that both the result and the driving force of social interactions is an individual’s developed understanding and consciousness of others and how they interact. It is also thought that a person only has a sense of self because of being part of a community, and this self is developed based on how we think other people view us and judge us. This idea is challenging to me because it does not consider the personality traits, interests, beliefs or any other aspect of a person that is not exposed to their community.

Furthermore, social constructionist perspective does not address an individual’s potential to change the way they see society or themselves without external interaction. Lastly, I find the aspect of object reality to be challenging. This perspective finds that there is no objective reality because humans are incapable of viewing a situation through a lens that does not take into consideration their own values and beliefs (Teaters & Condrat, 2010). This is challenging to me because if this were always the case, social workers would not have the ability to act selflessly throughout their practice.

I do, however, appreciate certain social constructionist’s findings that there are “preexisting social and cultural arrangements” previously constructed in history that play a role and that all social constructs are not fresh and to be created by an individual (Hutchison, p. 41, 2017). I can also appreciate this theory in how it might help a social worker to understand how a client socially constructs a problem that they are facing, and how understanding this can help the social worker to fully start where the client is. Overall, there are several aspects of the social constructionist perspective that I find respectable and thought-provoking, but several other aspects do not seem cohesive or precisely conceptualized (Hutchison, 2017).

Comparing Systems Perspective with Social Constructionist Perspective

One could compare systems perspective to social constructionist perspective in a few ways. First, both theories place great emphasis on how human interaction plays a role in behavior. How a person has constructed certain aspects of their reality through these human interactions could influence their membership in a system or lack of membership in a system. The systems perspective idea that systems are autopoietic, or self-constructed, is very agreeable with the big idea of social constructionist perspective, that we create our sense of self through interactions (Hutchison, 2017).

The systems perspective idea that systems are always changing and becoming more complex is agreeable with the social constructionist perspective idea that reality is constantly being reshaped by continuous human interaction (Hutchison, 2017). Lastly, the view that human understanding is the result of social interaction can relate to systems perspective’s view that feedback loops give systems change-inducing information from either within the system or from other systems. Both these views emphasize how human interaction is used by the individual and the system to assess and make changes.

There are also ways in which systems perspective and social constructionist perspective differ. The main way that these two perspectives differ is that systems perspective places great importance on the interactions within and among various systems, whereas social constructionist perspective focuses on the individual and how their interactions with other individuals and groups help them to develop a sense of self (Hutchison, 2017). Social constructionist perspective also considers the looking-glass self, which is how a person views themselves after taking into consideration how they appear to others, how they are judged by others, and how these thoughts make them feel (Hutchison, 2017). The idea of a person’s thoughts on themselves and how others judge them is not considered by systems perspective. This perspective more so focused on what role the individual plays in various systems and how the systems interact to shape the individual’s behaviors.

What is Missing from the Perspectives

After comparing systems perspective with social behavioral perspective and social constructionist perspective, there are notable aspects that are missing. All three perspectives seem to focus on human interaction as the basis of explaining human behavior, and do not take into consideration potential biological and psychological factors within an individual that could be influencing their behavior. These aspects are discussed by developmental perspective. These three perspectives also do not touch on the forces that drive human interactions, which is interesting considering their great emphasis on interaction in shaping behavior.

Other perspectives, such as exchange and choice perspective, look at how our interactions are driven by individual needs and are used to exchange resources (Hutchison, 2017). Lastly, the three perspectives analyzed do not specify how power and oppression might be influencing human interaction and subsequent behavior. This is highlighted by conflict perspective, which looks at how varying levels of power among groups impacts behavior (Hutchison, 2017).

Conclusion

This paper has described systems perspective and social behavioral perspective, what I find compatible about social behavioral perspective, compared systems and social behavioral perspective, described social constructionist perspective and what I find challenging about the perspective, and compared systems and social constructionist perspective. Lastly, this paper considered what is missing from the three perspectives. This comparative analysis reveals the importance of looking at human behavior using many different perspectives so that a multitude of explanatory factors may be revealed.

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