THE HUMAN ANIMAL. By Phil Donahue. Simon and Schuster. 412 pp. $19.95.

SYMPTOMATIC of 1980s behavior is a talk show host writing a book on human behavior. Phil Donahue explains that one underlying question on his show -- why do human beings behave the way they do? -- led him to consult with specialists in all aspects of human behavior. The result is a crash course in Darwin, Freud and Einstein, the mechanics of the brain, the dangers and responsibilities of our superior intelligence, the complexities of love, sex and sex roles, the history and future of violent behavior, the question of nature vs. nurture and the role of religion. Despite our unprecedented contradictory capacity for beauty and brutality, he stresses, human beings can control their destructive impulses, especially if our children are raised with more care.

A companion television series and the author's high profile may find a deserved wide audience for one of the very few popular introductory texts on human behavior. Donahue's synthesis exhibits his often praised analytic ability, as well as his adept use of accessible, sometimes condescending, imagery: fusion is "the atomic equivalent of a shotgun wedding."

An occasional opinion parades as fact, most importantly his premise that human beings are no longer operating under the laws of scarcity, but rather must adapt to abundance. Technology has given us more control than any other species, but fear of sudden scarcity or natural disaster haunts even middle-class Americans and continues to contribute to violence, irrational prejudices and accumulation of power and wealth.

After pinpointing a part of the brain for virtually every human attribute, including genius, love and even ecstatic mystical experiences, Donahue suggests that religion is needed to define our role as human beings. The Human Animal tackles competently the overly ambitious question of why man behaves the way he does; religion answers more fundamental questions for many and lies outside even this book's scope.

IN A MAN'S WORLD; Father, Son, Brother, Friend, and Other Roles Men Play. By Perry Garfinkel. New American Library. 208 pp. $14.95.

PERRY GARFINKEL, a journalist for New West and Psychology Today, treats a specific aspect of human behavior. Never mind those movies and articles starring the new "sensitive" male, who opens up to women and helps raise the children, this book tries to get at the heart of male-to-male relationships. The heart is both startling and simple: men do not discuss emotional feelings with each other, because they have been trained not to do so. Male emotional silence is not so startling, but its pervasiveness, how it is created and what takes its place are the surprise.

Using interviews with several hundred men, Garfinkel explores their relationships with fathers, grandfathers, mentors, brothers, heros and friends. The father establishes the life pattern: a competitive, distant relationship centered on performance. Competition rules all subsequent male relationships, and in competition, one never displays a weakness like emotion.

This book proves and disproves several clich,es. Because sport is the metaphor for all competition, losing even a recreational tennis match can ruin a man's day. Reputed homosexual promiscuity may result from male aggression unimpeded by females, while competition makes many homosexual relationships a perpetual contest with little emotional exchange.

Even after facing the emotional vacuum made obvious in this book, some men will insist that they don't want to talk about themselves, or that, by never revealing a personal weakness, they maintain a vital sense of power. As women join men in positions of power they are debating whether they should mimic the aloof, competitive male or "feminize" the workplace. Ideally, as men develop a richer emotional life and women a richer professional life, the workplace will become both more professional and more humane.

WHEN YOUR CHILD DRIVES YOU CRAZY. By Eda LeShan. St. Martin's. 393 pp. $14.95.

EMOTIONAL vacuums would disappear if children were raised according to the advice of Eda LeShan, a well-known child-care expert and author of more than 15 books. This new childraising sourcebook covers her philosophy and amply-illustrated specifics, from the pros and cons of spanking to the dilemma of working mothers. LeShan's approach is reassuring, flexible and personal, stressing that facing one's own childhood is the key to understanding one's child.

LeShan does have biases. Make clear to a child, she suggests, that there is no such thing as a "good" person. We are all imperfect but worthy of love. Never call a child a "liar" or a "thief" -- just too young to know better. Instill self-love, then teach that self-fulfillment should not be at the expense of others. Conceivably, these well-adjusted, guilt-free children may never take full responsibility for an unkind deed and may never realize that they are not everyone's cup of tea.

Parents who hope to raise brighter children through early stimulation will be disappointed by LeShan's adamant disapproval. Self-stimulated creative play is necessary for a child's proper development, she believes.

The book seems intended for raising smaller children. Teen agers are discussed, but sex and drugs are not. LeShan has covered these areas in an earlier book, so it is curious why she did not update and include some of the material here.

DORAN; How a Mother's Love and a Child's Spirit Made a Medical Miracle. By Linda Scotson. Putnam. 255 pp. $17.95.

MORE powerful is Linda Scotson's true story of successfully overcoming her son's apparently incurable brain damage that left him at 18 months with a puppet-like body and eyes that rolled inward. Scotson, an artist, also has a gift with words and recreates four years of incredible progress in the face of frustration, criticism and constant lack of resources.

Inspired by What to Do About Your Brain-Injured Child by Glenn Doman of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, she enrolled in his program, a constant cycle of deep breathing, instruction and "patterning" -- moving the child's limbs in a crawl pattern and thereby teaching the healthy brain cells to do the work of the damaged ones.

Widowed just before Doran was born, Scotson already had a daughter, Lili, and virtually no income, but she had an extraordinary supply of friends who petitioned, fund-raised, and practically pulled people off the street for her. The constant image of a small body being prodded by five big ones is suffocating at times. One worries about Lili, who appears to take it all beautifully in stride. Scotson's effort is truly superhuman, both in stamina and in the ability to take from others for a good cause. Nothing was too much to save her son, which she saw in the larger context of a crusade for all retarded children.

Glenn Doman's work is controversial, particularly his programs to make the average child more intelligent by early instruction -- precisely what Eda LeShan is so against. One hopes the two areas of his research can be judged separately. Doran may experience psychological problems from his aberrant childhood, but few could favor the alternative.