Difference Between Overt and Covert (With Table)

Overt and Covert are two adjectives that are generally used to describe objects, actions, and behaviours. The terms are used extensively in behavioural studies and even in daily conversations by people who have a good command of vocabulary. The distinguishing factor between them is that they are direct opposites to each other.

Overt vs Covert

The difference between overt and covert is that overt refers to something that is visible or apparent, meaning that it is out in the open and can be observed by others. Covert, being an antonym, refers to something that is not as visible or apparent. This means that it is hidden or concealed from others.

Overt refers to an object, action, or behaviour that can be easily detected by others. Its literal meaning is to be visible or apparent. This means that the action or behaviour must be sheerly physical in nature for it to be observed. When we talk about behaviours, overt is generally used to describe an action or verbal expression.

Covert refers to something that is not visible or apparent. Like in the case of overt, covert is an adjective that can be used to describe objects, actions, and behaviours. However, it points towards something that is hidden or concealed. In behavioural studies, covert denotes rudimentary mental processes that are not detectable on the outside.

Comparison Table Between Overt and Covert

Parameters of ComparisonOvertCovert
Meaning‘Overt’ is used to describe objects, actions, or behaviours that are done or shown openly.‘Covert’ is used to describe objects, actions, or behaviours that are not done or displayed openly.
VisibilitySomething that is overt is visible to others and easily detectable.Something that is covert is not detectable or visible to others.
InclusionsOvert behaviours include physical gestures, actions, and facial expressions.Covert behaviours include thoughts and other mental processes.
ManifestationOvert behaviour comes into existence because of covert behaviour.Covert behaviour creates or produces overt behaviour.
ExampleExamples of overt include physical expressions such as walking, dancing, eating, running, etc.Examples of covert behaviour include mental processes such as thoughts, dreams, memories, cognition, reasoning, etc.

What is Overt?

The term ‘Overt’ is an adjective that can be used to describe an object, action, or behaviour that is detectable or visible to others. This means that something is done or shown in the open and others can easily make sense of what it is. Overt is of great use when it comes to behavioural studies as it includes everything that people choose to manifest into physical reality.

Some examples of overt behaviours include eating, walking, dancing, jumping into a pool, slapping an enemy, shaking hands with a friend, and much more. All these actions are easily observable and are thus described as ‘overt’. They can be easily seen or heard by those who are watching.

Most of the time, overt is used to describe something that is very physical in nature. This includes objects, actions, facial expressions, gestures of the body, and even anything that is spoken by someone.

Examples of sentences that include ‘overt’ are –

“The child shows overt signs of depression and thus needs to be treated as soon as possible”. (Overt is used to describe depressions as the signs are shown openly).

“My father told me an overt lie when he came back home”. (The word overt is used to describe a very apparent lie).

What is Covert?

Covert is the antonym of the adjective ‘overt’. The word can be used to describe something that is not visible or apparent. Things that are disguised or simply not shown in the open are covert. The term is often used in action movies when certain missions are meant to be undercover. These are called covert operations.

The word ‘covert’ has its origins in the French language, in which it refers to something that is covered or obscure. In behavioural studies, the term is used rather extensively. Since a large portion of such a science is based on the processes of the mind, covert is used to describe a number of things.

For example, all the mental processes of a person are covert as they are not detectable by others. These include thoughts, dreams, reasoning, cognition, memories, etc. Such covert processes may or may not manifest into physical reality, where they become overt.

Examples of sentences that include ‘covert’ are –

“The spy had covert plans to enter the country and carry out his mission”. (The plans are called covert as they are kept a secret).

“My mother tried very hard to keep the surprise covert, but she failed miserably”. (Covert is used in this sentence to imply that the surprise was hidden).

Main Differences Between Overt and Covert

  1. Overt means something that is done or shown openly while covert refers to something that is hidden.
  2. Overt behaviours are created by invisible mental processes while covert behaviours are created as a response to visible actions.
  3. In social situations, overt behaviours that can be observed easily increase the validity of an occurrence while covert behaviours that cannot be observed and decrease the validity of an occurrence.
  4. Overt behaviours include verbal expressions, facial expressions, and gestures while covert behaviours include mental processes.
  5. Something that is overt requires the participation of others while something that is covert does not.

Conclusion

Overt and covert are antonyms that are used to describe the nature of actions, objects, and behaviours. While overt refers to something that is out in the open and quite visible, covert refers to something that is hidden or concealed.

In behavioural studies, overt includes everything physically detectable like gestures and expressions whereas covert includes mental processes that are not visible to others.

An interesting aspect is that describing something using these words is all about perspective. An action or behaviour can be overt as well as covert for the third person (person who is watching). For example, if a man is seen walking on the street, it is overt that he is walking. However, the fact that he is going somewhere we don’t know is covert.

References

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-9612.00006
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=sBVGAYCh_9AC&oi=fnd&pg=PA245&dq=overt+vs+covert&ots=Qo2GY6bfRG&sig=jyegH2h_O-oOmub16y8RUL5vYCU
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