In the behaviorism approach to psychology, behavioral scripts are a sequence of expected behaviors for a given situation. Scripts include default standards for the actors, props, setting, and sequence of events that are expected to occur in a particular situation. The classic script example involves an individual dining at a restaurant. This script has several components: props including tables, menus, food, and money, as well as roles including customers, servers, chefs, and a cashier. The sequence of expected events for this script begins with a hungry customer entering the restaurant, ordering, eating, paying and then ends with the customer exiting. People continually follow scripts which are acquired through habit, practice and simple routine. Following a script can be useful because it could help to save the time and mental effort of deciding on appropriate behavior each time a situation is encountered.
There have been many empirical research studies conducted in order to test the validity of the script theory. One such study, conducted by Bower, Black, and Turner in 1979, asked participants to read 18 different scenarios, all of which represented a doctor's office script. The participants were later asked to complete either a recall task or a recognition task. In the recall task, the participants were asked to remember as much as they could about each scenario. Here, the participants tended to recall certain parts of the stories that were not actually present, but that were parts of the scripts that the stories represented. In the recognition task, participants were asked to rate various sentences on a 7-point scale regarding their personal confidence that they had seen each sentence in the scenario. Some sentences shown to participants were from the stories and some were not. Of the sentences that were not from the stories, some were relevant to the doctor's office script and others were not relevant to the script at all. Here, participants tended to recognize certain non-story sentences as having come from the story if the non-story sentence was relevant to the script. Ultimately, Bower, Black, and Turner's study suggested that scripts serve as a guide for a person's recall and recognition for certain things that they already know.
Some people may have a tendency to habituate behavioral scripts in a manner that can act to limit consciousness in a subliminal way. This can negatively influence the subconscious mind and, subsequently, can negatively affect perceptions, judgments, values, beliefs, cognition and behavior. For example, over-reliance upon behavioral scripts combined with social norms that encourage an individual to use these behavioral scripts may influence one to stereotype and develop a prejudiced attitude toward others based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, etc.
Some applied behavior analysts even use scripts to train new skills and 20 years of research supports script use as an effective way to build new language, social, and activity routines for adults and children with developmental disabilities. With language scripts fading, efforts are being made in an attempt to help the scripts recombine in order to approximate more natural language.