A Multidimensional View of the Seven Influences on Human Behavior and the Freedom that Transcends Them

8D is a paper I am currently submitting to academic journals. It is the result of years of searching for explanations of human behavior. First, I encountered our psychological motivations through Freud, Jung, and Gilligan, then I became fascinated with the power of situations to overpower our individual psychology, through Elliot and Milgrim, and then I started to see the power of systems to create situations, through Zimbardo and Coates. Then I began to see the ubiquitous influence of culture, through Berger, Steele, Galtung, and Kavanaugh. As a religious studies scholar and as a religious person, I also took seriously the possible influence of the metaphysical (e.g., karma, or the intervention of a saint or a bodhisattva, or God), or at least the existential (our power to make meaning). But all along I was also personally aware of the power of awareness and freedom, inspired by the work of Frankl, Nhat Hanh, and others who had risen above the worst of circumstances and claimed their authentic selves. Add to this the power of our biology and our geography, and we have eight dimensions of influence on any human behavior. This is a far cry from the usual one or two that most of us gravitate towards as we analyze our most salient problems. Is gun violence the result of two many guns (geographic-environmental dimension), or of bad choices, i.e., “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” (freedom-awareness dimsension)? These positions account for only two of the eight dimensions of this problem. Until we recognize and attend to all eight dimensions, our solutions will always fall tragically short.


Human behavior is not so much caused as it is influenced by several different types of factors, influences that are often studied in isolation. Building on Ninian Smart’s multidimensional schema for studying religions and worldviews, I propose a multidimensional model for analyzing human behavior. By taking into account the first seven dimensions of influence—geographical-environmental, physical-biological, dispositional-psychological, situational-social, systemic-institutional, cultural-axiological, and metaphysical-supernatural—we can not only holistically understand the complex of influences on our behavior, but we can cultivate the eighth dimension—awareness—that allows us to transcend these influences, giving us the freedom to intentionally act, rather than merely react, to the complex of forces surrounding us.