The concept of behavioural environment was developed by the Gestalt School of Psychology, which holds that the objects which we view in the world have a different meaning when viewed as a whole rather than as individual parts; and the perception itself is not -chaotic, haphazard or learned, but rather intuitive, ordering and ideally simplifying.
Within geography, the term was brought to prominence by William Kirk, who defined the behavioural environment as “a psycho-physical field in which phenomenal facts are arranged into patterns and acquire values in cultural contexts. It is the environment in which rational behaviour begins and decisions are taken, which may or may not be translated into overt action in the phenomenal environment”. Thus, Kirk suggests, at one level people are in direct contact with the phenomenal environment so that physical action will lead to changes on both sides of the relationship, but at a second and equally significant level the facts of the phenomenal environment will enter people’s behavioural environment and condition their actions.
Such penetration occurs, however, only in so far as phenomenal facts are perceived by human beings with motives, preferences, modes of thinking and traditions drawn from their social and cultural milieu. Thus, the same empirical data may have quite different meanings for people of different cultures. Kirk presents people as essentially conscious, reasoning and purposive (they base their decision on rational appraisal) but does not equate them with ‘economic man’ as such; rather, since the behavioural environment is a product of the interaction of ‘reality’ and cultural value, human action is understood to be guided not simply by the external environment ‘as it is’ but by distorted psychological representation of it.