Behaviouralism in Political Science: Meaning and Basic Tenets

What is Behaviouralism?

Behaviouralism or the behavioural approach to analysis and explanation of political phenomena is particularly associated with the work of American political scientists after the second world war. However, its origin may be traced back to the works of Graham Wallas and Arthur Bently. The other early thinkers associated with this approach were C.E. Merriam, G.E.G. Catlin and Harold D. Lasswell.

Despite these early attempts, behaviouralism was systematically developed, particularly, by David B. Truman, Robert Dahl, M. Kirkpatrick, Heinz Eulau and David Easton.


Behaviouralism stood for a shift of focus in the study of politics from traditional approaches to political behaviour, i.e., the behaviour of actual actors in the political field such as power holders, power-seekers as well as voters. Although behaviouralism came to be understood as something wider than the study of political behaviour, yet political behaviour was its main focus. It also focuses on psychological and social influences on the behaviour of individuals in a political situation. This involved the study of such processes and factors as political socialisation, political culture, political participation, leadership, decision making and so on. An understanding of most of these processes involved inter-disciplinary research. Behaviouralism also developed into a set of orientations, procedures and methods of analysis. It gave a scientific character to modern political science.

Basic Tenets:

According to David Easton, the intellectual foundation of behaviouralism consists of eight major tenets:

  1. Regularities: It implies that there are uniformities in the political behaviour which can be expressed in theory like statements.
  2. Verification: It requires that the validity of such theory like statements must be testable.
  3. Techniques: It implies that the means for acquiring and interpreting data should be examined, refined and validated for the purpose of observing, recording and analysing behaviour.
  4. Quantification: Recording of data and statement of finding requires measurement which should be expressed in terms of actual quantities to facilitate proper analysis.
  5. Values: It insists that scientific inquiry should be objective and value-free or value-neutral.
  6. Systematization: It stands for establishing a close interrelationship between theory and research.
  7. Pure Science: It holds that political science is pure science and concerned with understanding and explanation of political behaviour.
  8. Integration: It focuses on an interdisciplinary approach, i.e. integration of political science with other social sciences in order to evolve a comprehensive view.

The behavioural movement had such a profound impact on political science that these tests became the rule of political inquiry. It was believed that any political inquiry according to these guidelines would generate reliable theory and scientific explanation. Another contribution of behaviouralism to the political inquiry is that instead of focusing on abstract macro-structures, it focused on micro-level situations.

Impact of Behavioralism

Behaviouralism has given empirical methods, tools, and techniques to Political Science, and has made the latter more complete. Its interdisciplinary nature has helped to understand the basic urges, needs, and demands of man in a better way. It has led scholars to move towards substantive areas and stable units of political life.

Some of the behaviourists hope to evolve a ‘Science of Politics’ patterned after natural sciences. In it, they do not want to give any place to values or non-scientific methods. Although, Till today, behaviouralism has not succeeded in achieving its mission of ‘Science of Polities’ or ‘Science of Man’, but it has helped the growth of this discipline is in a transitional stage. It is moving from an older sense of ‘Political Philosophy’ to the contemporary status of ‘Political Science’, with an aspiration to become a ‘science of politics’ in future. As such, Heinz Eulau affirms that the Science of Politics is both a possible as well as a desirable venture.


O.P. Gauba

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