Overt Versus Covert – The Important Differences You Need to Know

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Human behavior, by all regards, is considered an observable phenomenon. As a human, whatever you do, if it can be observed, is classified as behavior. All of the gestures that you make, the physical interactions, the facial expressions, and what you say combines to form your “behavior.”

However, what you think and how you think cannot be classified as human behavior. Nobody can “observe” your thinking – this cannot be seen, nor can it be heard in any way. The mental processes going on in your mind cannot be classified as human behavior.

Now, there are a few psychologists who believe that this definition is not entirely true. Some also say that human behavior is a combination of both our observable and nonobservable manner of behaving. This has led to a debate between overt vs. covert, and many psychologists have tried to give their own explanations about it.

Overt Behavior

Overt behavior is conventional behavior that you can observe easily. The way you act, the way you move, and your facial and bodily gestures are all part of your overt behavior. These can be seen and can be heard. Overt essentially means something that is visible and apparent.

Overt is an adjective that is used to describe something that’s openly displayed. Overt behavior is essentially behavior that anyone can see. For instance, if you are nervous, it is likely that your mind will be racing. However, that’s not overt behavior. But, if you start biting your nails or start fidgeting around, it’s overt behavior.

Covert Behavior

Covert behavior is essentially behavior that cannot be observed. Covert, as you may know, is something that cannot be observed. It is the opposite of overt, so it is considered to be disguised or covered. It’s essentially the French word for “covered.”

As you can imagine, mental processes such as our thoughts and imagination are all covert behaviors. The retrieval of memories, the reasoning in your head, they all fall under this umbrella. While covert behavior is not readily observable, they have a major influence in the way our overt behavior is shaped.

Most people often rationalize and reason in their heads before taking steps, so the relationship between the two is quite close. However, to better understand the two, let’s talk about the major differences between the two.

Causality and Effect

Overt behaviors are caused by the mental processes that happen inside the brain. They can be turned into responses that you physically act out.

On the other hand, covert behavior cannot be displayed or even acknowledged. It is the unobservable behavior that eventually causes different actions.


Overt behavior includes all kinds of observable behavior such as speaking, working, talking, sitting, sleeping, moving about, and others. Anything that you do in which you must make your body move is termed as overt behavior. Even if you are sitting and just making facial gestures, that’s considered overt behavior as well.

On the other hand, covert behavior is generally caused by the actions and events that take place around us. These mental processes and thoughts are generally a result of the events that transpire around us and make us think. Covert behaviors are essentially known as stimulus for the brain, as it needs input to create thoughts.

Difference of Opinion

As mentioned above, many psychologists believe that simply classifying overt behavior as normal behavior is considered a shallow and limited understanding of behavior in general. In essence, most psychologists believe that covert behavior is equally important when conducting a behavioral study.

However, the biggest limitation lies in studying mental events. It’s hard to perceive or understand what a person is thinking because there is simply no way to figure out whether the person is telling the truth or not. Covert and overt behaviors both shape our thinking.

How to Control Covert Behavior

Controlling overt behavior is generally easy; you just have to prevent yourself from moving about, or saying something, or making a facial gesture. Most people, if they set their mind to it, are able to control their covert behavior with ease. It doesn’t take long for them.

However, the real difficulty lies in controlling the mind. The mind is a complex network of neural pathways that connect with different areas of the body and allow the brain to respond accordingly. You have to understand that the brain usually responds to stimulus from the environment, and it can be quite difficult to control that.

For instance, many people who have a creative edge like to enter a specific “zone” so that they are able to create or innovate. Some like to take hallucinogenic drugs as well! It’s all about controlling your environment and the people that you meet, and as long as you are able to do that, you will be able to get your covert behavior in check as well.

Meditation Is Important

One of the most amazing ways to control what you think, and in general, your mind, is to meditate. Scientists and behavioral psychologists are still understanding the benefits of meditation and how it affects the brain and the body in general. Meditation is the way to control that voice in your head that is always talking.

Many people find it difficult to control their thoughts, and they end up constantly thinking about one thing or another. To control your mind, practicing a little bit of meditation on a daily basis can go a long way. More importantly, you have to understand that meditation is not as complicated as most people make it out to be.

You don’t have to get up on a cushion or sit cross-legged; meditation can be performed any place that you feel comfortable. You just have to sit in a comfortable position and avoid external noise. Once you are able to do that, just focus on your breathing and you are good to go.

Controlling the Body

Once you are able to control the mind, controlling the body comes easy. Many people find that they are unable to control their actions while in a rage or in fits of fury. Through meditation, you will be able to control those, and automatically, you will notice a major change in the way you think and perceive things.

These are just a few things that you should know about the differences between overt and covert behavior.


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