Psychologists, sociologists, and even anthropologists study patterns of human behaviors in order to unravel key insights into the human condition, cultural attitudes, cultural values, cultural norms, and their influence upon individuals and societies.
As the most advanced mammals on earth, we have a range of unique behaviors, generally oriented around or advanced social, technological, and cognitive abilities.
Below are examples of a range of human behaviors that make us unique.
Human Behavior Examples
Empathy is the human capacity to understand and share the feelings of another individual, mirroring their emotions as if we were experiencing them firsthand.
While some animals do demonstrate foundational elements of empathy, humans exhibit this behavioural trait at a level of complexity unparalleled in the animal kingdom.
Humans, with our intricate social constructs, have the ability to comprehensively interpret a diverse range of emotional states and respond accordingly.
Such intricate perception and attunement to the emotions of others forms a fundamental part of human communal interactions, positioning empathy as a quintessentially human trait.
2. Symbolic Thinking
Symbolic thinking represents the unique human ability to use symbols or images to depict something else.
This might sound straightforward, but it carries extensive implications. This behavior underpins the inception and evolution of language, culture, and art in human societies.
Our Homo Sapien ancestors did not only communicate through rudimentary sounds and gestures, but also demonstrated their capacity for symbolic thinking through pictorial representations and carved figurines.
This ability persists in the present day where humans employ symbolism in sophisticated forms of writing, illustrations, and virtual imagery.
Altruism, the selfless act of placing the needs or wellbeing of others above one’s own, is a third uniquely human behavior.
There is an array of theories attempting to explain the evolution of human altruism, from developmental adaptation to sociocultural influences.
Besides mere kin selection, where related individuals help each other in order to improve their shared genetic success, humans also engage in gratuitous acts of goodwill towards entirely unrelated persons.
Distinct from the limited forms of cooperative behavior observed in other species, human altruism extends to widespread philanthropy, self-sacrificing heroism, and public service.
4. Creative Expression
Among the array of human behaviors, creative expression stands out as a remarkable trait.
The ability to conceive and bring forth novel ideas or objects not only for functional purposes, but also purely aesthetic or expressive ones, is a remarkable human speciality.
From painting and music to drama and literature, creative expression manifests in manifold ways across all cultures.
This expansive range and depth of creative manifestation separates humanity from other species.
5. Conceptualizing Time
The human behavior of conceptualizing time in abstract terms is significant. Humans are capable of discerning the past, present, and future, a trait unique to our species, to the best of our knowledge.
This ability to reflect upon the past and project into the future, along with understanding the abstract concept of ‘time,’ informs human decision-making processes.
More importantly, this concept of time provides a framework within which humans can plan and strategize, a trait that has significant implications for survival and success.
This behavior is striking in its complexity and in its relative absence in other species.
6. Vocal Language
Vocal language, the systematic and generative capability of assigning specific complex meanings to particular sounds, forming full sentences, distinguishes humans from other species.
Speech is the primary mode for transmitting information across generations and facilitating cooperation among human groups.
The use of vocal language allows the conveyance of complex, abstract ideas and emotions, a level of communication unmatched by non-human forms of interaction.
7. Cultural Transmission
The process of cultural transmission holds a prominent position among human behaviors.
Indeed, cultural transmission involves the intergenerational transfer of knowledge, beliefs, customs, skills, and behavioral norms in a community.
Unlike many animals that rely primarily on genetic programming to pass on survival tactics, humans teach and learn from one another in an ongoing cycle. From the crafting of tools to complex societal norms, each generation learns from the experience of its predecessors and contributes to the communal knowledge pool.
This continuous learning and teaching process enables the evolution of societies, eventually leading to the cultivation of the diverse and intricate cultures we see globally today.
8. Cooking Food
The act of cooking food distinguishes us from any other species.
Cooking has been an integral part of human behavior since the discovery of fire. It goes beyond simple food preparation, drastically altering the makeup of what we consume.
This has biological implications, allowing our bodies to obtain more energy from food materials and facilitating evolutionary changes, such as the growth of our brains. Additionally, cooking food has social implications, often serving as a centerpiece around which human gatherings and interactions occur.
9. Tools and Technology Use
Humans demonstrate a unique propensity for the use and creation of complex tools and technology.
This behavior involves not only using natural objects as tools but also modifying these objects and designing new ones to suit specific purposes. From crafting simple stone-age tools to developing advanced modern-day technologies, humans continuously innovate to enhance survival and improve the quality of life.
The complexity and sophistication of human tool use and technological development are unparalleled in the animal kingdom, making this a uniquely human behavior.
Self-reflection is a uniquely human behavior that sets us apart from other species.
Self-reflection is the practice of thinking about our own thoughts, emotions, decisions, and behaviors. It is a process that allows us to evaluate our experiences and learn from them, driving personal growth and development.
In essence, this behavior entails a higher level of cognition, enabling us to analyze ourselves and make changes based on our reflections. This process of introspection greatly contributes to human progress on an individual and societal level.
See More: Examples of Self-Reflection
11. Abstract Reasoning
Abstract reasoning forms a significant portion of the unique cognitive capabilities of humans.
Distinct from others in the animal kingdom, humans not only react to immediate, tangible situations but also display the remarkable capability to think abstractly.
By extracting meaning from complex situations, identifying underlying patterns, and making logical deductions, humans can contend with situations beyond sensory experience. This thought process underscores the development and application of mathematics, philosophy, and strategic planning.
While grief is not exclusively human, our complex rituals around mourning distinguish us as a species.
Humans commemorate the lives of their deceased, honouring them with ritualistic practices that vary across cultures. These range from memorial services and funerals to distinct periods of mourning and the creation of monuments.
The act of mourning signifies humans’ potent awareness of mortality, capacity to remember, and the profound emotional bonds between individuals.
13. Trade and Barter
Trade and barter form an essential aspect of human societal interaction.
The practice of exchanging goods and services based on their perceived value is unique to human societies.
Unlike other species that might showcase primitive forms of resource exchange, humans have maintained complex trade systems, even from early civilization. This system has evolved over the centuries into global markets and economies, demonstrating the capacity of humans for strategic negotiation and cooperation on a large scale.
The creation and enforcement of laws are quintessentially human.
The formulation of codes of conduct governs individual and collective behavior. While numerous species have social rules, the human system of laws is unmatched in its complexity and sophistication.
From unwritten societal norms to formally enacted legislation that governs nations, this ability demonstrates the human desire for order, justice, and social stability.
Education is an uncannily human pursuit.
The deliberate process of facilitating learning expands knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes. Learners absorb a planned curriculum via teaching, training, or research — a process more systematic and extensive than the rudimentary learning found in other species.
Beyond survival skills, the scope of human education spans arts, sciences, philosophy, history, physical dexterity, and social skills. The process of structured learning and intellectual growth underscores the foundations of human civilization and progress.
16. Music and Dance
Music and dance constitute a major aspect of human cultural and emotional expression.
These artistic forms are truly universal to human societies across the globe. They aren’t simply recreational activities but serve as means to express a broad spectrum of emotions, share stories, and reinforce group identity. Their interesting characteristic is that they require creativity, coordination, and a sense of rhythm and timing — all of which serve as testament to our cognitive abilities.
Moreover, music and dance can foster social bonding and unity during communal celebrations, explaining their central role in various cultural rituals and festivals.
17. Written Communication
The development and use of written communication distinguish humans significantly.
Humans not only communicate verbally but have developed a system by which language, ideas, and information can be represented in a visual and tangible form.
This ability has enriched human interaction, allowing societies to record their histories, disseminate knowledge, and structure complex social institutions.
It marks a significant departure from simpler forms of communication seen in non-human species, demonstrating the cognitive flexibility and creative innovativeness at the heart of human growth. Given its role in the success of our species, it’s almost impossible to overestimate the importance of written communication.
18. Medicine and Healthcare
The development of practices and principles related to medicine and healthcare is fundamentally a human endeavor.
Human societies have demonstrated an understanding of the mechanisms of health, injury, illness, and the body’s healing process.
With this understanding, they have embarked on developing treatments, therapies, and preventative measures to combat health problems, thus prioritizing population longevity and well-being. Our commitment to medicine separates us from other species, reflecting our cognitive complexity, empathy, and advanced problem-solving faculties.
This distinct behavior displays the transition from mere survival to a pursuit of improved quality and length of life, underlining the role of medicine in societal advancement.
19. Sports and Games
The creation and participation in highly organized sports and games underscore the depth of human creativity and social interaction.
Unlike other animals that engage in play as a form of survival training or social bonding, humans formalize play into structured games with complex rules and objectives.
This demonstrates the unique human capacities for strategic thinking, planning ahead, and operating as a team — skills that extend beyond the playfield.
Moreover, these sports and games serve as a conduit for societal bonding, group identification, and even international unity amid competition. The universal practice of sports and games is an affirmation of shared human culture, channeled through competition and cooperation.
The drive for exploration and the pursuit of new knowledge is a trait that sits at the core of being human.
This desire to venture into unfamiliar territories, to study the uncharted, and to constantly push the boundaries of our knowledge sets us apart from other species.
Our history is replete with tales of explorers overcoming tremendous odds in the name of discovery, illuminating our collective consciousness.
Whether exploring geographical landscapes, outer space, or the realm of ideas, the trait of human exploration perpetuates our evolutionary imperative: adapt, learn, and survive. Ultimately, this venture into the unknown testifies to our relentless curiosity and sophistication as a species.
Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, underlines the level of cognitive sophistication that is unique to humans.
As humans, we have the capacity to analyze our thought processes, evaluate the efficiency of different thinking strategies, and alter our approach based on introspection. This level of self-awareness and self-regulation in the cognitive domain sharpens our learning efficiency and problem-solving skills.
Further, it fosters our ability for self-improvement, personal growth, and ethical decision-making. Metacognition demonstrates not just what we think, but also how we think, establishing it as a strictly human domain.
See More: Examples of Metacognition in Humans
Philanthropy exemplifies our inherent capacity for empathy and compassion combined with our ability for advanced organization and collaboration.
By definition, philanthropy involves the use of resources to extend social goodwill and promote welfare on a large scale. This characteristic is unparalleled in the rest of the animal kingdom. This underscores our ability to sympathize with hardships beyond our immediate experiences and devise systematic approaches to alleviate those hardships.
The act of philanthropy underlines the height of ethical and moral developments within human societies, following a rationale that transcends basic survival instincts.
23. Spirituality and Religion
Spirituality and religion form an intricate part of the human behavioral repertoire for tens of thousands of years.
Humans across time and geographies have exhibited a propensity towards belief systems that explain the world around them, guiding moral frameworks, and providing a sense of purpose.
These systems encapsulate our ability for abstract thought, symbolic expression, and communal cohesion. Religion and spirituality offer a gateway into comprehending human existential concerns and our unique response to them.
These intricate systems, regardless of their truth value, offer meaningful narratives that shape our perceptions and behaviors, aptly reflecting the complexity of human cognition.
24. Sustainable Agriculture
The practice of sustainable agriculture is singularly distinctive of humans.
Taking charge of our food sources, humans transformed from simple gatherers to sophisticated farmers. This shift further catapulted us along the path of civilizational development, allowing population growth and societal stability.
We learned to cultivate crops, domesticate animals, and increasingly control our immediate environment.
While some animals show primitive forms of resource management, none approach the sophistication and scale of human sustainable agriculture. The conduct of agriculture highlights our capacity for long-term planning, understanding of ecological dynamics, and advanced problem-solving skills.
25. Civics and Politics
Civics and politics articulate the depths of human social organization.
Political structures reflect our ability to establish complex social organizations, consolidate communal values, and resolve conflicts.
These structures embark on regulating societal behaviors, distributing resources, and making collective decisions that affect entire communities or nations. Even in rudimentary forms, politics govern social interaction among human groups, highlighting our inherent social nature.
Crucially, it marks humans’ ability to construct abstract entities like power and authority and organize societies around such concepts.
Our political designs distinguish us sharply from other species, illustrating the social, cognitive, and communicative evolution of humankind.
26. Science and Technology
The development of science and technology sheds light on the intellectual prowess and innovative nature of humans.
This behavior involves systematically uncovering the salient principles governing our world and then, using this understanding, creating technological tools or methodologies.
With these, humans manipulate their environment and enhance their capabilities, from basic tools for hunting in the Stone Age to cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence.
The development of science and technology emphasizes our cognitive capacity, problem-solving skills, and the human ability to adapt and evolve over time.
27. Collective Learning
The practice of collective learning marks a major milestone in human behavioral evolution.
In contrast to individual learning, collective learning involves the inter-generational transmission of knowledge and skillsets, fuelling progressive advancements in knowledge.
Our capacity to accumulate and build upon previous knowledge differentiates us from other species. This constant state of shared learning has fostered intricate societies and cultures, accelerating human advancement over centuries.
Storytelling is a distinctly human behavior which reflects our rich cognitive and linguistic abilities.
Humans have been telling stories since ancient times, and not simply for entertainment.
Storytelling acts as a means to pass on knowledge, values, and life lessons within and across generations. It demonstrates our ability to conceive complex, abstract thoughts, formulate them into stories, and effectively communicate these to others.
The stories often carry moral, cultural, or philosophical implications that further structure human societies.
29. Aesthetics and Beauty Appreciation
Appreciation of aesthetics and beauty forms an inherent part of human behaviors.
Unlike other species, humans not only recognize beauty but create and seek it. From artistic creations to the appreciation of natural beauty, humans have a distinct sense of aesthetics, often invoking emotional responses.
This conduct underscores our advanced cognitive capabilities and emotional depth.
The pursuit of beauty and the emotional fulfillment we derive from it underscore the rich emotional lives of humans.
30. Commerce and Economy
Commerce is a social activity specific to humans, born from our abilities to communicate, negotiate and exchange.
From prehistoric barter systems to modern digital economies, humans have developed complex structures to produce, distribute, and consume goods and services. These structures, or economies, support human survival, social interaction, and growth of civilizations.
Commerce involves planning, negotiations, and risk-taking, reflecting a depth of strategic thinking. It demonstrates our ability to value resources, understand demand and supply, and connect with other individuals for mutual benefit.
31. Long-Term Planning
Long-term planning stands as a testament to the forward-thinking capacity of humans.
Visible in our daily lives, right from scheduling our tasks to drafting career paths or establishing retirement plans, humans have the cognitive ability to forecast, prepare, and plan for the future.
We envisage future events and work towards tasks or goals that may not yield immediate benefits. This behavior underscores our unique temporal consciousness, strategic thinking, and the ability to delay immediate gratification for future benefits.
32. Mapping and Geography
The creation and utilization of geographical maps are unique to humans.
This practice represents a complex behavior where we consider spatial information, scale it down, and represent it symbolically.
Maps depict physical landscapes and aid navigation, strategic planning, and territorial understanding. This unique behavior exhibits our abstract thinking skills, comprehension of physical space, and the desire to move beyond the immediate environment.
33. Body Art and Modification
Body art and modification, including tattoos and piercings, are distinctively human behaviors.
Such modifications are not purely aesthetic, but often deeply symbolic and representative of personal or cultural identity. They attest to our self-awareness, need for self-expression, and social communication.
Body art and modification contribute to our individual uniqueness while also enabling a sense of communal unity, especially within particular cultural groups.
34. Conservation and Environmental Awareness
The concerted effort towards conservation and environmental stewardship is a trait that is undeniably human.
With comprehension of our impact on the environment, humans exhibit extraordinary capabilities in working towards the preservation of nature.
The act of conservation encompasses different practices such as creating natural reserves, implementing sustainable practices, and constructing legislative frameworks to limit harmful activities. This behavior represents our capacity for foresight, empathy towards all life forms, and our understanding of ecological interconnectedness.
35. Architecture and Infrastructure Development
The creation of complex architecture and infrastructure is purely a human endeavor.
From homes hewn out of caves to towering skyscrapers, humans engineer and construct structures for shelter, utility, and a symbol of societal progress. These constructions reflect our ability to manipulate the environment using tools and technology, our understanding of materials and their properties, and our innate need for safety and community.
The development of complex structures and infrastructures substantiates human ingenuity and the drive to create functional as well as beautiful spaces for inhabitation and use.
I made the decision to present examples of uniquely human behaviors in this article in order to demonstrate aspects of ourselves that make us special. But, I could very well have presented behaviors based on a range of types (such as overt behavior, covert behavior, ethical behavior, unethical behavior, learned behavior, prosocial behavior, and collective behavior).
To explore in more depth, I recommend starting out with my types of behaviors article, which will demonstrate the ‘lay of the land’ for cognitive-behavioral studies, and can help you to spread out to other sub-categories that I’ve explored elsewhere on this site.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]