Behavioral “Scripts”

Josh Meyers
4 min readAug 11, 2021

Behavioral scripts are deeply cultural and psychological workings of behavioral instructions. These instructions can be understood, mapped, and audited to make user experiences better and more intuitive.

Simply put, behavioral scripts are instructions that execute at the subconscious level to respond to situations (aka. combinations of settings, expectations, sequences, events, and roles, to name a few).

These scripts are a psychological approach to understanding the standard actions of human behavior given a particular situation.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Keys to understanding behavioral scripts for UX Design

  • Behavioral scripts are a method of approaching behavior design
  • Behavior is often a subconscious response to a particular situation
  • UX Design leverages expectations and situations to deliver better user experiences

Behavioral scripts are a method of approaching behavior design

behavioral scripts are a facet of behaviorism in cognition psychology. It is the thought that behavior stems from a collective memory of rehearsed stimuli that caters to cultural, social, logical, and emotional expectations.

For example, image you are going to buy a car. There are behavioral scripts that might govern how you respond to reasonable expectations. First, that you will go to car lot, speak with an associate, test drive the car, negotiate, and then either buy a car or leave the lot.

Behavioral scripts dictate that we “naturally” seek out an associate and attempt to test drive a car. These are not novel ideas, they are conditioned expectations that we have scripts to help us navigate.

Perhaps the best argument for the behavioral scripts approach to understanding behavior is when scripts are absent altogether. Imagine a novel experience such as going to an upscale dinner party in a foreign country.

For many of us, there are unfamiliar cultural and situational expectations that we have not developed a behavior script to navigate. You would likely have to inquire what to do or consciously navigate every action, intensely focused on cultural, social, logical, and emotional feedback.

It the experience might feel uncomfortable because you are acting at the conscious level rather than the behavioral level. You have no script.

Application: Map behavioral scripts for your projects and identify which parts of the experience users will have existing scripts vs. which parts need to be taught new scripts.

When you design at this level, you can begin to form user behavior and teach more effectively.

Behavior is often a subconscious response to a particular situation

As you may have gathered from the last section, most behavior is executed at the subconscious level. If you have ever acted or spoke “without thinking first”, you have used your subconscious behavior.

While it is tempting to think that we are 100% in control of our thoughts and actions, most of the things we do are in a sense auto pilot responses. In fact, they are behavioral responses at the subconscious level.

Consider why you naturally greet someone with your right hand rather than your left, hold a door open for your friend, go to the back of a waiting line, or do not making eye contact in a public space.

These are subconscious actions that we notice only after we have already performed them. We act subconsciously more often than not when we navigate our everyday lives.

This has significant implications for how UX designers form user experiences. Design should not only be logical, but behavioral. Decreasing friction and cognitive load at the subconscious level.

Application: Subconscious behavior is learned. Therefore, take more care to wow and teaching users when an action falls outside of existing behavioral scripts. Users will use more cognitive energy when faced with a novel or exciting experience.

UX Design leverages expectations and situations to deliver better user experiences

Understanding behavioral scripts is a monumental tool for auditing new and existing user experiences.

Just think, what if you could move most user actions from conscious thought to subconscious thought. In one case, the user has to spend a lot of cognitive energy to make choices, in the other case, the user has built-in autopilot scripts to accomplish a task with little cognitive effort.

The more repetition and the clearer the expectations, the more user engagement will become effortless and behavioral. This is behavior design.

Leveraging associations and situations as a designer will go a long way in orchestrating a solution that is not only user-centered, but behaviorally efficient, intuitive, and natural.

Application: Audit experiences for behavioral scripts and then transform user expectations into actionable scripts to increase the intuitive nature of your user’s experience.


Behavioral psychology has a significant effect on user experience at the cognitive level. When we consider cognition, we begin to reach deeper into the subconscious experience where we can design for deeper human sensibilities and needs.

In the end, Behaviorism is just one methodology to understanding human behavior, but it is a helpful tool in understanding user actions, expectations, and needs.