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Behaviouralism is an approach in human geography that came to prominence in the human geography of the 1960s and 1970s (Aitken and Valentine, 2006,p. 338). It goes out of the idea that people are the determining factor in the explanation of space. Behaviouralism tries to give an explanation of the spatiallity of human activities. And thereby they use a complex universally applicable model.

The roots

The behavioural approach originally developed in the psycological field of the behaviourism and has later strongly been shaped during the cognitive turn. The rise is moreover a result of the reaction to spatial analysis, which came up in the 1950s (Cloke, Philo and Sadler, 1991, p. 66-67). In which mechanstic excesses of experimental psychology was the main focus. Behaviourism is an approach and theory based on the way animals and human beings can learn. In this theory the way people behave is a result of an automatic respons to stimulus from the environment. Through conditioning of stimulus it becomes possible to change behaviour. In this process of behaviour, there is no place for consiousness and perception.

During the cognitive turn the idea that only the environment determines our behaviour changed. Cognition became an important element in explaining behaviour. It means the way information once it is observed, is organised, structured and incorporated in existing knowledge (Golledge & Timmermans, 1990). Before, the mind was seen as a ‘black box’. And the way people behave was just the outcome of stimulus-response. In the cognitive turn they try to open this ‘black box’.

Behavioural model

On this basis of cognition the behavioural approach is build. It’s not only our environment that determines our behaviour, there are also internal causes that could play a rol in explaining behaviour. They open the ‘black box’ and try to investigate what happens in the mind and recognises that behaviour also depends on for instance someone’s character (Cloke, Philo and Sadler, 1991, p. 66-67). So consciousness becomes a source of power, there is selectivity of observation and incorporation of stimulus and there are mental processes in our brain that influence our behaviour. Through these factors people could respond different on the same stimulus and show different types of behaviour. Besides the room for endogenous mental activities that can be an influence, the model still, sticks to the ideas of an automatic response on stimulus, be an objective science and the possibillity to predict behaviour.

The behavioural approach is primarily based on methods of quantification. Behavioural geography has been criticized for its adherence to positivist principles, as well as its unwillingness to explore the role of the unconscious mind, althoug it still underpins many research projects, particularly those based on survey research. (Aitken and Valentine, 2006,p. 338)

The behaviouralist turn in human geography

As a consequence there was a behaviouralist turn in human geography. The behaviouralist turn can be described as a critique on the spatial analysis approach. This approach was formalised, abstract and it was focused on aggregate patterns. In this approach there was no room for the individual. (Ernste, 2012). The behaviouralist turn can also be seen as a counter approach. The individual human being is represented.The behaviour is explained by consciousness and subjectivity (Ernste, 2012)

In the 1970's the behaviouralism was introduced human geography in the United States. Concrete example of behaviouralist turn in the human geography is the introduction of mental maps.


  • Cloke, P., Philo, Ch. and Sadler, D. (1991). Approaching Human Geography. Chapman, London.
  • Ernste, H. (2012). Lecture 1 of Spatial Behaviour (power point slides). Nijmegen. the Netherlands: Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen.
  • Golledge, G., & Timmermans, H. (1990). Applications of behavioural research on spatial problems. Human Geography, vol. 14. 1990.


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