A General Theory of Behaviour


David F. Marks

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright


    To Jess and Mike:

    Looking forward to the next ‘knees up’.

    About the Author

    David Marks served as Head of the School of Psychology at Middlesex Polytechnic, and as Head of the Department of Psychology at City University, London, UK. Previously David held positions at the University of Sheffield, UK, and at the University of Otago, New Zealand. His other books include The Psychology of the Psychic (1980, with R. Kammann), Theories of Image Formation (1986), Imagery: Current Developments (1990, with J.T.E. Richardson and P. Hampson), The Quit For Life Programme: An Easier Way to Stop Smoking and Not Start Again (1993), Improving the Health of the Nation (1996, with C. Francome), Dealing With Dementia: Recent European Research (2000, with C.M. Sykes), The Psychology of the Psychic (Revised Edition) (2000), The Health Psychology Reader (2002), Research Methods for Clinical and Health Psychology (2004, with L. Yardley), Overcoming Your Smoking Habit (2005), Obesity. Comfort vs. Discontent (2016), Stop Smoking Now (2017) and Health Psychology. Theory, Research and Practice (5th Edition) (2018, with M. Murray and E. V. Estacio). David is the Editor of the Journal of Health Psychology and Health Psychology Open.

    Preface and Acknowledgements

    Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations.

    Stephen Hawking

    It has been said that advances in science come not from empiricism but from new theories. With this thought in mind, A General Theory of Behaviour has the potential – or so I aim to convince the reader – to advance understanding of human nature and to integrate the discipline of Psychology. I need to explain why this is (a) necessary, and (b) possible.

    I think the majority of psychologists agree that integration is necessary. Fragmentation has been a longstanding and difficult problem for Psychology. Over more than a century, fragmentation has been called a ‘crisis’.1 The problem has been described thus: ‘a nexus of philosophical tensions, which divide individuals, departments, and psychological organizations, and which are therefore primarily responsible for the fragmentation of Psychology.’2 In many years’ experience as a student, researcher and Professor of Psychology, I can testify to persistent and intractable tensions in every quarter of the discipline, worse in some places than others, but the fragmentation is evident everywhere.

    The discipline can sometimes feel like a medieval country split into fiefdoms by moats, walls and a haphazard set of paltry roads, odd rules and customs (see Figure P1, left panel). As the visitor approaches the border of the country, a smart road sign reads: ‘Welcome to the Science of Psychology.’ Full of expectation, one passes through the guarded gates at border control (sniffer dogs, disinfectant spray guns, x-ray machines and millimetre wave scanners).

    After screening by unsmiling officers in peaked caps, the traveller explores what excitement exists inside this guarded place. Each fiefdom provides glossy brochures, catalogues and travel guides in which skies are always blue, buildings are chateaux, and fountains high reaching with crystal waters. Each area invites the visitor to drive over the drawbridge and take a detailed look. However, on close inspection, one senses a deep-seated problem. Something strange and slightly sinister appears to be going on. The locals appear defensive and ill at ease when one makes enquiries and asks even the simplest of questions such as ‘What does X mean?.’ As we travel around the country, barbed wire fences of ‘no man’s land’ are everywhere and the few connecting roads are potholed and ill-made.

    In each sub-area, there is evidence of industrialization with companies of artisans ploughing long straight furrows, planting pest-resistant seeds, spraying fields with Roundup®, harvesting their crops and filling rodent-proof silos with carefully sifted data, e.g. long-eared corn tastes better than short-eared, short-eared corn tastes better than oats, oats taste better than long-eared corn (!)in cycles of planting, harvesting, testing and analysing. Producers with the largest silos rule. In spite of all of the graft, one senses that tension, disharmony and technical disputes are causing ill-feeling. If somebody breaks the famine with a bold new idea, s/he risks being pilloried, dunked or quarantined in the cut-off region called ‘Critical Psychology’. One wonders if Psychology really were a science, would there be so many sub-regions, stretches of ‘no man’s land’ and unrewarding customs?

    Most commentators agree that a major redesign is long overdue to re-engineer the discipline. Travel between sub-areas needs to be made more navigable, moats emptied, walls razed and bridges built. It’s an Isambard Kingdom Brunel the science needs as much as another Charles Darwin.3

    The objectives of A General Theory of Behaviour are to take a few measured steps towards advancing Psychology as a natural science and, in so doing, to unify it (see Figure P1, right panel). This brief introduction of 40,000 words offers 20 principles and 80 auxiliary propositions – 100 empirically falsifiable propositions.4 The principles and multiple auxiliary propositions make the General Theory fully and transparently capable of falsification. In embracing intentionality, purpose and desire, the General Theory is non-reductive while, at the same time, drawing upon principles from other sciences, in particular Biology and Physiology. Following in the footsteps of Claude Bernard, Walter B. Cannon and others, I try to convince the reader of the usefulness of the metamorphosed concept of behavioural or psychological homeostasis and, in so doing, explain the implications for the Science of Behaviour.

    Figure P1 The Science of Psychology. In its fragmented state (left panel), each sub-field acts as a defended niche with its own specific theories and data. In a unified state (right panel) the discipline would consist of a single General Theory that encompasses the entire field with a minimum number of assumptions, a large set of falsifiable hypotheses, and a body of empirical studies aimed at falsification of the General Theory.

    My thesis is that organisms are not adapted to each other and the environment because natural selection made them that way, but they are made that way owing to an inbuilt striving towards stability and equilibrium. A General Theory of Behaviour is an introductory ‘User’s Guide’ aiming towards a reconfigured Science of Psychology – the target in the right-hand panel of Figure P1. In Chapters 1 and 2, I describe the core elements of the theory. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 contain additional parts of the theory concerning biological rhythms, concepts of behaviour, consciousness and the central Behaviour Control System. The remaining five chapters each cover three core topics from the perspective of the theory. These latter 15 topics indicate the ability of the theory to cover a broad cross-section of the discipline.5

    In working on this endeavour, I acknowledge the inspiration of some exceptional people encountered along the way: A.R. Jonckheere (‘Jonck’), Alan Musgrave, Allan Paivio, Andrew Kuzcmierczyck, B.F. Skinner, Bob Audley, Brian Evans, Carla Willig, Catherine M. Sykes, Donald Broadbent, Emee Vida Estacio, Ernest Hilgard, George Wallace, Gosaku Naruse, Graham Goddard, Jack Clarkson, James R. Flynn, Jiro Tatsuno, Kenichi Uemura, Maggie D. Vernon, Martin Gardner, Michael Murray, Neil McNaughton, Paul Sulzberger, Peter McKellar, Ray Hyman, Richard Kammann, Richard G. Wilkinson, Rumina Dewshi, Shinsuke Hishitani, Stevan E. Hobfoll, Takeo Hatakeyama, and Ulric Neisser. I warmly thank the following scholars for their insightful comments on an earlier version of the General Theory: Rachel Annunziato, Kristin August, Lindzee Bailey, Laszlo Brassai, Emily Brindal, Janine Delahanty, Stephanie Grossman, Camille Guertin, Charlotte Markey, Patrick Markey, Jennifer Mills, Christopher Nave, Luc Pelletier, Bettina Piko, Paige Pope, Meredith Rocchi, Kaley Roosen, Diane Rosenbaum, Kamila White and Gary Wittert. Graham McPhee kindly helped me to clarify the theory, contributed to the illustrations, and produced a video. Alice Vallat offered the space, time and love to inspire the writing of this book. Friends and colleagues too numerous to name have provided invaluable support, information and advice over many years. Responsibility for error rests entirely with me.

    In building roads and bridges, one must neither over-design nor under-design. Nobody knows how sturdy the structure is until it is tested with a fleet of trucks. Should cracks occur (or worse), other ‘engineers’ might be persuaded to renovate the project. Surely it should be worth the effort. However long it takes, our broken discipline needs to be put together into one beautiful whole.

    David F MarksArles, Bouches-du-Rhône,Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France8 July 2018

    1 Willy, R. (1899). Die Krisis in der Psychologie [The Crisis in Psychology]. Leipzig: O.R. Reisland.

    2 Goertzen, J.R. (2008). On the possibility of unification: The reality and nature of the crisis in Psychology. Theory & Psychology, 18(6), 829–852.

    3 Certainly the author is no Brunel, but as I sit in his long shadow, I can imagine Portsea Island, walking the bombed-out streets of my childhood – the locality of Brunel’s birth 150 years earlier.

    4 Owing to the wide sweep of the General Theory, hundreds, if not thousands of testable (i.e. falsifiable) predictions across all areas of behaviour are available. In this short book, the number of auxiliary propositions is limited to 80 for reasons of space.

    5 In a short volume of 40,000 words it is impossible to review the entire Psychology discipline. A few topics are covered elsewhere. See: Marks, D.F. (2015). Homeostatic theory of obesity. Health Psychology Open, 2(1), 1–30; Marks, D.F. (2016). Dyshomeostasis, obesity, addiction and chronic stress. Health Psychology Open, 3(1), 1–20; Marks, D.F. (2016). Obesity. Comfort vs. Discontent. Available at: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/obesity/id1116183961?mt=11 (accessed 13 June 2018); Marks, D.F. (2016). Stop Smoking Now (2nd edn). London: Robinson; Marks, D.F., Murray, M. and Estacio, E.V. (2018). Health Psychology: Theory, Research & Practice (5th edn). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

  • Postscript

    Thank you for joining this excursion into Psychology as a Natural Science. We took a metaphorical leap over a theoretical ‘cliff’ in search of a new perspective for the discipline. This adventure opened a multitude of new vistas to tempt courageous explorers. If you are ‘up for it’ I look forward to your company again soon. To be continued …


    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website