What Is Overt Behavior?

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Overt behavior refers to actions that are able to be observed. These include behaviors such as whispering, walking, yawning and jumping. People who study human behavior sometimes classify overt actions into categories by form, intensity, duration and frequency.

For instance, walking potentially fits into many possible classifications. One example of walking is a stooped form, an intensity level of three miles per hour, a duration of 45 minutes and a frequency of four times a week.

It is also possible to organize yawing into categories. One form uses a hand to cover the open mouth, the intensity is a fully opened mouth, the duration is three seconds and the frequency is once every five minutes. These behaviors are overt, because they are observable to anyone who cares to pay attention.

Overt behavior is contrasted to covert behavior. These actions are not observable because they occur inside people’s heads. They include thinking, daydreaming, wishing and hoping. Often no one knows covert behaviors are happening except the person performing them.

Covert behaviors are sometimes detected through inference. For instance, when students are taking a test and writing down answers, the inference is made that they are thinking. Sometimes researchers use technological devices, such as heart rate monitors, when studying covert behaviors. They then draw conclusions about internal actions. For example, people’s heart rates typically increase when they feel scared of worried.