All organisms perform external behaviors—actions outside of the organism—in order to survive and reproduce. From bacteria to plants to human beings, every lifeform on planet Earth responds physically to its environment. Naturally, humans engage in a variety of external behaviors in order to minimize threats and maximize gains, to seek out pleasure and avoid pain.
External behavior is directed by our drives. Our external behaviors can be learned or innate; for example, a baby does not need to be taught to nurse, but if one day she wanted to eat a coconut, she would have to be taught how to open and eat it.
External behavior can also be influenced by genetics, culture, and biases, all of which shape our responses to the world around us. For example, a person who was born introverted, or who was raised in a culture that valued silence and introspection, will likely behave differently than someone with an extroverted personality, raised in the twenty-first century United States. Our external behavior will sometimes have a social component that helps us to communicate with other humans; these social behaviors can include everything from sharing to bullying.
Human beings use external behaviors to interface with the world. Often, our internal behavior—strategies—will shape external behavior; for example, if you are concerned about appearing authoritative and astute in a business meeting, you may consciously sit up straighter or look others in the eye when speaking. Emotion also acts as an external behavior that communicates our internal state to others, through embodiment. External behavior can also be shaped through conditioning, when we learn to behave (or not to behave) in certain ways thanks to the consequences of those behaviors.
Though our external behaviors exist to help us as individuals to survive, it is important to note that much of human behavior serves to help one another to survive. The social component of behavior cannot be ignored. As Frans de Waal puts it: "Don’t believe anyone who says that since nature is based on a struggle for life, we need to live like this as well. Many animals survive not by eliminating each other or by keeping everything for themselves, but by cooperating and sharing. This applies most definitely to pack hunters, such as wolves or killer whales, but also our closest relatives, the primates." Rather than a struggle for survival, as social animals we may be involved in more of a "snuggle for survival."
photo by antonio villaraigosa