Complex adaptive behavior and dexterous action

Steven J. Harrison, Nicholas Stergiou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Dexterous action, as conceptualized by Bernstein in his influential ecological analysis of human behavior, is revealed in the ability to flexibly generate behaviors that are adaptively tailored to the demands of the context in which they are embedded. Conceived as complex adaptive behavior, dexterity depends upon the qualities of robustness and degeneracy, and is supported by the functional complexity of the agent-environment system. Using Bernstein's and Gibson's ecological analyses of behavior situated in natural environments as conceptual touchstones, we consider the hypothesis that complex adaptive behavior capitalizes upon general principles of self-organization. Here, we outline a perspective in which the complex interactivity of nervous-system, body, and environment is revealed as an essential resource for adaptive behavior. From this perspective, we consider the implications for interpreting the functionality and dysfunctionality of human behavior. This paper demonstrates that, optimal variability, the topic of this special issue, is a logical consequence of interpreting the functionality of human behavior as complex adaptive behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-394
Number of pages50
JournalNonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015


  • 1/f scaling
  • Biomechanics
  • Dynamical systems theory
  • Multifractals
  • Nonlinear analysis
  • Robustness
  • Self-organized criticality
  • Synergetics
  • Variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Mathematics

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