An explanation of human behaviour formation: A reflection on indoor air pollution exposure

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, September 2020, Volume 3, #110.

You cannot react to what you cannot perceive. Behaviour exists only because of the existence of perception. The questions that come to mind are; (i) How is human behaviour formed? (ii) How is human perception related to behaviour? I will start with what I called the “Law of interaction with a stimulus”. I believe that to every human or animal interaction with a stimulus, there is an equal magnitude, but in the opposite direction, of perception interpretation and reaction to the interpretation.

“Perception interpretation”, an independent variable, is the interpretation of the “signal” generated from the human and animal interaction with a stimulus. Human behaviour, a dependent variable, is a signal generated by the perception interpretation and sent back to the stimulus. The magnitude of both signals is the same, albeit in the opposite direction.

Perception is the physical, chemical or psychological stimulation resulting from organs or tissues’ reactions when humans or animals are exposed or believed could be exposed to a stimulus. Physiological, psychological, social, and economic conditions influence perception formation. Perception may be a conscious or unconscious act. Human behaviour is the action resulting from the outcome of perception interpretation.

I reflected on my experience, observations, and understanding of human and animal actions. I came up with the conclusion that the extent of perception interpretation will be ultimately determined by human or animal awareness or ignorance, comfort or discomfort, and convenience or inconvenience level of a believed solution or response to a problem or stimulus.

Comfort is the ease someone feels to their wellbeing, and convenience is the ease of doing something. Convenience can lead to comfort. The outcome of the interpretation determines the extent of reaction (human behaviour).  Perception interpretation and reaction to it (human behaviour) may also be conscious or unconscious acts.

The relationship between perception, perception interpretation, and reaction to the interpretation forms the basis of human and animal ability to increase or decrease their vulnerability to a hazard. Increased vulnerability increases the risk of experiencing or suffering from the effect of a hazard. A decreased vulnerability means a decrease in risk.

The hazards of concern in this article are air pollutants, especially when they occur in an indoor environment. A reflection approach is used for this article as very little is known in the literature on how human behaviour to indoor air pollution exposure reduction is formed.   The relationship between human perception, perception interpretation, and behaviour to perception interpretation will be analysed by reflecting on mask usage experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news (a stimulus) on the emergence of an infectious and contagious coronavirus that could cause death or have physiological, psychological, social, and economic implications led to fear (a perception). The stimulation of the brain (an organ) by the news led to the fear. The interpretation of the fear using the perception interpretation determinants led to two kinds of behaviour – actions to prevent or mitigate and the denial of the existence of the virus. I will use the case of mask usage to explain how human perception interpretation informed their behaviour.

The perceived fear caused by the news of coronavirus led to a widespread usage of masks in the community. This means the perceived fear informs human behaviour. How is the behaviour formed? The acquired knowledge of the coronavirus’s airborne nature, which causes COVID 19 and a nose mask being effective in reducing the inhalation of the virus and other associated fears with the virus, informed the masking behaviour.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people did not react to their perceived fear of the virus with the use of mask because they genuinely lack knowledge about the airborne nature of the virus. Many people also lack knowledge of how the exposure rate can be higher in indoor environments than the outdoor environment.

Even with the perceived fear caused by the existence of coronavirus, some people still decide not to use a mask when they are required to or use a mask inappropriately because of the uneasiness they feel to their wellbeing or difficulty to breathe properly when they put on a mask. Some leaders decided not to use a mask and even encouraged people they are leading not to use masks because of the unease they feel to their political wellbeing.

The non-availability of masks that can easily be put on appropriately when in public space and take off in non-public space or with people who could not potentially cause infection may influence people’s decision not to use a mask or use it inappropriately. The frequency of this inconvenience may also lead to discomfort.

The inconveniency in acquiring masks and distributing them could have led authorities to hesitate (behaviour) to advise or mandate people to use masks, even when they know that airborne transmission of the coronavirus is a possibility. Inconveniency may also cause a denial of knowledge about the virus and how a mask could be useful in reducing its impacts. The motive for denial is rooted in the human need for comfort and convenience.

The three perception interpretation determinants are usually used at the same time to judge formed perception. The preference given to each determinant determines which one will significantly influence how the interpretation of the formed perception informs behaviour. For example, if the knowledge of how appropriately used masks could significantly help prevent or reduce the feared death or physiological, psychological, social, and economic implications COVID-19 could cause, the discomfort and inconvenience of using a mask will not prevent its usage or appropriate usage.

I want to encourage readers of this article to reflect, using their everyday indoor air quality experience, on the relationship between human perception formation, perception interpretation, and behaviour (reaction to the interpretation).  What is the behaviour and how is it formed when exposed to indoor air pollutants caused poor outdoor air quality and indoor sources of pollutants like smoking activities, the air-conditioning system generating air pollutants and foul smell, chemicals from personal care products and cleaning materials, cooking activities, foul smell and moist air from toilets, etc?

Knowledge and reflection skills gained from this article can also be applied to other aspects of everyday life and research fields. At the root of every problem, including that of indoor air, is human. Thus, an understanding of how behaviour is formed is essential.

Do you want to learn more about this topic? Read Laland et al. (2011) and Wingo (2016) on earlier works relating to human response to a stimulus. Knowledge gained from these earlier works can be used when reflecting on information from this article.

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