Behavioral space

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Behavioral space is the set of behaviors in a free-running animal that leads to no penalty (such as pain). The borders of the behavioral space are determined by the environment. In addition, in humans, the limits of the behavioral space are tightened with the rules of behavior imposed by parents, teachers, social groups, law, etc.

In a child with a large behavioral space, free exploration makes it possible to examine a wide range of behaviors for their impact on planning, goal-seeking strategies, and natural reward or penalty. In a child with a small behavioral space, excess authoritarian penalization limits the range of behaviors and may lead to a war of the networks. In socialization, open system socialization provides for larger behavioral spaces and a wider range of the learned skillset. In a closed system socialization, e.g. in prison, the excessive penalization may lead to learned helplessness, and other negative side effects of learning in conditions of stress.

In a large behavioral space, a child might be allowed to run on a dining table, but would be penalized for hurting another child or endangering his own life. In contrast, in small spaces, children may be penalized for errors in grammar, being late, lifting a spoon with a wrong hand, failing to report toilet needs, reporting toilet needs, failing to complete a meal, talking back, poor grades at school, poor attention, etc. Penalties may include shaming, emotional blackmail, timeouts, reward deprivation, spanking, or even a harsh beating.

Authoritarian parenting, discipline, and penalization may often lead to the illusion of accelerated learning. A well-disciplined child will follow the rules and receive accolades. It may show "better" behavior, better compliance, and "better" learning. This may perpetuate the authoritarian loop. In contrast, children in large behavioral spaces will be labelled as brats, which may lead to penalization via peer pressure. This penalization will often be indirect, i.e. dished out by the parent subjected to social pressure. Rapid transition from open spaces (e.g. in childhood), to closed spaces (e.g. at school), may lead to behavioral disorders.

Limiting a child's behavioral space can be compared to limiting its access to a library. In terms of the jigsaw puzzle metaphor, small behavioral spaces come with a small set of jigsaw pieces or limited spaces for growing the puzzle. In knowledge tree or crystallization metaphors, we would see a tree or a crystal of knowledge growing in a tight box.

See: Optimization of behavioral spaces in development

This glossary entry is used to explain "I would never send my kids to school" (2017-2024) by Piotr Wozniak