The Analysis of Verbal Behavior

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 143–160 | Cite as

Words Are Not Things



On a traditional view, words are the fundamental units of verbal behavior. They are independent, autonomous things that symbolically represent or refer to other independent, autonomous things, often in some other dimension. Ascertaining what those other things are constitutes determining the meaning of a word. On a behavior-analytic view, verbal behavior is ongoing, functional operant activity occasioned by antecedent factors and reinforced by its consequences, particularly consequences that are mediated by other members of the same verbal community. Functional relations rather than structure select the response unit. The behavior-analytic point of view clarifies such important contemporary issues in psychology as (a) the role of scientific theories and explanations, (b) educational practices, and (c) equivalence classes, so that there is no risk of strengthening the traditional view that words are things that symbolically represent other things.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baer, D. M., Peterson, R. F., & Sherman, J. A. (1967). The development of imitation by reinforcing behavioral similarity to a model. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 10, 405–416.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. Barnes, D. (1994). Stimulus equivalence and relational frame theory. Psychological Record, 44, 91–124.Google Scholar
  3. Barnes-Holmes, D., & Barnes-Holmes, Y. (2000). Explaining complex behavior: Two perspectives on the concept of generalized operant classes. Psychological Record, 50, 251–265.Google Scholar
  4. Barnes-Holmes, D., Barnes-Holmes, Y., & Cullinan, V. (2000). Relational frame theory and Skinner’s Verbal Behavior: A possible synthesis. The Behavior Analyst, 23, 69–84.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: David Mackay.Google Scholar
  6. Catania, A. C. (1986). On the difference between verbal and nonverbal behavior. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 4, 2–9.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Day, W. E, Jr. (1969). Radical behaviorism in reconciliation with phenomenology. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 12, 315–328.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Dougher, M. J., Augustson, E., Markham, M. R., Greenway, D. E., & Wulfert, E. (1994). Transfer of respondent eliciting and extinction functions through stimulus equivalence classes. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 62, 331–351.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Hall, G., & Chase, P. N. (1991). The relationship between stimulus equivalence and verbal behavior. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 9, 109–117.Google Scholar
  10. Hayes, S. C. (1994). Relational frame theory: A functional approach to verbal events. In S. C. Hayes, L. J. Hayes, M. Sato, & K. Ono (Eds.), Behavior analysis of language and cognition (pp. 9–30). Reno, NV: Context Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hayes, S., & Wilson, K. (1994). Acceptance and commitment therapy: Undermining the verbal support for experiential avoidance. The Behavior Analyst, 17, 289–303.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Hempel, C. G., & Oppenheim, P. (1948). Studies in the logic of explanation. Philosophy of Science, 15, 135–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hergenhahn, B. R., & Olson, M. H. (1997). An introduction to theories of learning (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  14. Kantor, J. R. (1938). The operational principle in the physical and psychological sciences. Psychological Record, 2, 1–32.Google Scholar
  15. Kantor, J. R. (1945). Psychology and logic (Vol. 1). Bloomington, IN: Principia Press.Google Scholar
  16. Leigland, S. (1997). Is a new definition of verbal behavior necessary in light of derived relational responding? The Behavior Analyst, 20, 3–9.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Moore, J. (1981). On mentalism, methodological behaviorism, and radical behaviorism. Behaviorism, 9, 55–77.Google Scholar
  18. Moore, J. (1990). On mentalism, privacy, and behaviorism. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 11, 19–36.Google Scholar
  19. Moore, J. (1998). On behaviorism, theories, and hypothetical constructs. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 19, 215–242.Google Scholar
  20. Moore, J. (2000). Varieties of scientific explanation. The Behavior Analyst, 23, 173–190.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Parsons, H. M. (1989). Lying. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 7, 43–47.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. Place, U. T. (1981a). Skinner’s Verbal Behavior I: Why we need it. Behaviorism, 9, 1–24.Google Scholar
  23. Place, U. T. (1981b). Skinner’s Verbal Behavior II: What is wrong with it. Behaviorism, 9, 131–152.Google Scholar
  24. Place, U. T. (1982). Skinner’s Verbal Behavior III: How to improve Parts I and II. Behaviorism, 10, 117–136.Google Scholar
  25. Place, U. T. (1983). Skinner’s Verbal Behavior IV: How to improve Part IV—Skinner’s account of syntax. Behaviorism, 11, 163–186.Google Scholar
  26. Poulson, C. L., & Kymissis, E. (1988). Generalized imitation in infants. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 46, 324–336.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Schlinger, H. D., Jr. (1993). Separating discriminative and function-altering effects of verbal stimuli. The Behavior Analyst, 16, 9–23.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. Schnaitter, R. (1999). Some criticisms of behaviorism. In B. A. Thyer (Ed.), The philosophical legacy of behaviorism (pp. 209–249). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schusterman, R. J., & Kastak, D. (1993). A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) is capable of forming equivalence relations. Psychological Record, 43, 823–839.Google Scholar
  30. Sidman, M. (1990). Equivalence relations: Where do they come from? In D. E. Blackman & H. Lejeune (Eds.), Behaviour analysis in theory and practice: Contributions and controversies (pp. 93–114). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  31. Skinner, B. F. (1945). The operational analysis of psychological terms. Psychological Review, 52, 270–277, 291–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  33. Skinner, B. F. (1964). Behaviorism at fifty. In T. W. Wann (Ed.), Behaviorism and phenomenology (pp. 79–108). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  34. Skinner, B. F (1969). Contingencies of reinforcement. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
  35. Skinner, B. F (1974). About behaviorism. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  36. Skinner, B. F (1978). Reflections on behavior and society. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
  37. Skinner, B. F (1986). The evolution of verbal behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 45, 115–122.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Skinner, B. F (1989). Recent issues in the analysis of behavior. Columbus, OH: Merrill.Google Scholar
  39. Steele, D., & Hayes, S. C. (1991). Stimulus equivalence and arbitrarily applicable relational responding. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 56, 519–555.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Sundberg, M., & Michael, J. (1983). A response to U. T. Place. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 2, 13–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Terrell, D. J., & Johnston, J. M. (1989). Logic, reasoning, and verbal behavior. The Behavior Analyst, 12, 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Whitehead, A. N., & Russell, B. (1913). Principia mathematica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Wilson, K., & Hayes, S. C. (2000). Why it is crucial to understand thinking and feeling: An analysis and application to drug abuse. The Behavior Analyst, 23, 25–43.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  44. Wittgenstein, L. (1974). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1922; D. F Pears and B. F McGuiness, trans.)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA

Personalised recommendations