What Influences Human Behavior?

In a world filled with unique backgrounds and perspectives, no two human beings are exactly alike. But that doesn’t mean that human behavior is unpredictable. Human decision-making is in part determined by biological and environmental factors that can be identified and measured to inform how unique individuals will respond to fixed circumstances.

A customer compares two products in a store.

The study of human behavior, spearheaded by psychologists, can help inform businesses on consumer decisions, impacting both the business and individual as well as the larger marketing landscape. For example, understanding consumer behavior and its influences can help promote sustainable spending and encourage businesses to adopt more environmentally friendly practices or products.

Psychologists are also particularly valuable in organizational contexts, where their expertise can help to motivate employees and better understand workplace structures and interactions. Pursuing a master’s degree in applied psychology can prepare professionals with a blend of consumer and organizational psychology — making them essential components of practically any organization’s strategy.

Behavioral Science: The Study of Human Behavior

Behavioral science is a vital area of study across societal contexts, but it’s especially useful in organizational decision-making. While the field of psychology is rooted in theory and research, findings can be applied to inform strategic initiatives and capitalize on human tendencies.

Behavioral Design

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to creative problem-solving that looks at challenges from a user — or, in this case, consumer — perspective. Behavioral design combines design thinking with the science of influence to find out why customers make buying decisions and how to activate behavioral changes to shift the way they interact with products or services. This is a compelling methodology for business leaders, as behavioral design can help trigger curiosity, change perception and generate new habits in their target consumers.

People Analytics

Data and empirical analysis help organizational leaders make better hiring decisions, introduce improved workforce processes and enhance employees’ work lives. These insights shed light on the efficacy of current programs and practices, thus revealing potential areas of improvement to invest in. When people analytics experts assist leaders in interpreting and applying unbiased data, organizations are able to save energy, time and money over the long term.

Understanding Consumer Behavior

A business cannot be effective and profitable without a commitment to understanding its consumers’ psychological processes. If an organization fails to speak to customers’ inspirations, fears and perceptions, then its messaging is unlikely to resonate and trigger a buying decision.

Marketers use consumer insights and consumer psychology to illuminate how consumers behave. In the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, 75% of consumers in the United States tried a new store, brand or way of shopping, according to McKinsey & Company. For grocery chains and other businesses that sell grocery products, it’s of utmost importance to uncover why consumers change their behavior and how businesses can better serve those changing habits over the long term.

Internal factors such as perception, learning and personality, as well as external factors including culture, social status and group influence, are equally important for marketers to consider when shaping their messaging strategies. To align their products with the beliefs and behaviors of their target market, they may take several actions:

  • Reinforce positive beliefs
  • Shape emerging habits with new or improved offerings
  • Sustain new habits using contextual or data-driven insights
  • Adjust messaging to resonate with consumer mindsets
  • Analyze consumer behaviors and belief systems at a granular, qualitative level

Understanding Behavior in Organizations

While considering consumer behavior is indispensable to an organization’s strategic plan, understanding human behavior within the organization itself is equally crucial. By attending to the human needs of employees, business partners and community stakeholders, organizations can increase morale and satisfaction, thus improving overall productivity.

Using people analytics to unearth data-driven insights can help organizations understand what makes for a healthy and fulfilling workplace. With virtual and hybrid work continuing to emerge in the “new normal,” organizations must identify methods to encourage positive behaviors and discourage negative ones, such as burnout, harassment or quitting. Some ways that organizations can drive positive behavioral outcomes include:

  • Recognizing employees consistently
  • Celebrating perspectives and ideas with diversity, equity and inclusion programs
  • Supporting employee-led initiatives
  • Offering enhanced benefits and wellness programs
  • Encouraging open and honest feedback — and then implementing that feedback

Applying Behavioral Science to Real-World Situations

The study of human behavior is an important endeavor for society at large. But in the context of corporate business, the real payoff comes in applying what’s been learned through research to drive positive outcomes both internally with employees and externally with consumers.

If you’re looking to advance your career in an area such as human resources, marketing or management, the online Master of Science in Applied Psychology Program at USC can give you the tools and methodologies to leverage consumer and organizational psychology principles toward modernized strategic initiatives. Learn more about how USC can give you the applied psychology knowledge to open new career opportunities today.

Recommended Readings

What Is Upskilling, and Why Is It Good for Companies?

Leading a Virtual Team in the 21st Century

What Is Organizational Psychology? 6 Real-World Applications


American Psychological Association, “The Goods on Consumer Behavior”

Forbes, “Why People-Oriented Analytics Are More Important Than Ever”

McKinsey & Company, “Understanding and Shaping Consumer Behavior in the Next Normal”

Ogilvy, “Beyond the First Nudge: The Case for Behavioral Science in Corporate Practice”

Qeios, “A Brief Introduction to the COM-B Model of Behaviour and the PRIME Theory of Motivation”