Skinner’s Definition of Verbal Behavior

B.F.Skinner defined verbal behavior as behavior reinforced by the mediation of other persons. (I am writing this from memory. I don’t have a copy of Verbal Behavior with me at the moment. I live in one dwelling during the workweek and another during weekends. I am too cheap to buy multiple copies of even behaviorist books.)

Some people have questioned this definition as being unable to cover all possible cases. (I am not taking the time to explain this well here. Reserve the right to update this part in particular, in the future. Of course, I also reserve the right to update the entire site at any time.) This seems to me to be intentionally focusing on the unimportant — this has also been pointed out (by Dave Palmer, for instance.)

It seems to me that if we add the qualification “if the behavior has an effect without the mediation of others, it is not verbal behavior”, this should take care of most of the extreme cases. (Again, taking care of the extreme cases is hardly any priority.)

Steve Hayes is one of the critics of Skinner’s definition of VB. As Dave Palmer has pointed out, criticizing Skinner definition is neither necessary nor sufficient for advancing Hayes’ molar approach to verbal behavior.

(Add quote here about Hayes two chamber example.)

1. The situation of a Skinner box accidentally dispensing pellets at VR 5 is quite unlikely.

2. If the feeder gets accidentally stuck, the VR5 goes out the window. We can tell the two chambers apart quite easily. Dave Palmer points out a similar thing: when the feed runs out, the two chambers don’t have identical situations. [Dave always steals my best ideas, by thinking of them two or three years before I do :-)]

3. The two chambers are different in other ways too. If there is an announcement “Impending tornado strike. Please take shelter ASAP”, the manual feeder scurries and takes shelter, leaving the poor pigeon unattended. The “stuck feeder” keeps on delivering at VR5.

4. If we use my definition, then the responding in the “stuck feeder” chamber is not verbal behavior at all. (If mechanical/geometrical connections produce the effect, it is not verbal behavior.)

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2 Responses to “Skinner’s Definition of Verbal Behavior”

  1. Sophmom Says:

    Welcome to the blogosphere!

  2. Canemom Says:

    I second sophmom!

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