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The Generalization of Mands


The mand is a type of verbal operant whose response form is under control of a motivating operation (MO). It is the first verbal operant to be acquired, directly benefits the speaker, leads to the development of other behaviors, and may serve to replace problem behavior. Even though the topography of the mand is under the functional control of an MO, its occurrence is influenced by a multitude of variables functioning as discriminative stimuli (SDs). Thus, the generalization of mands can occur across both MOs and SDs. Additionally, the same MO may evoke new mand topographies—a form of response generalization. The purpose of this article is to distinguish and describe these types of mand generalization in order to encourage future research and influence practice.

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  1. In other words, any errors or omissions are my own.

  2. The terms form and topography are used interchangeably.

  3. According to Skinner (1957), “a ‘word’ . . . is a unit of behavior composed of a response of identifiable form functionally related to one or more independent variables” (p. 20).

  4. Even though the variables controlling the topography of other verbal operants may also vary considerably from one occasion to the next, it may be the case that these variables (e.g., visual stimuli controlling textual responses) are not as transient as MOs, which, in some cases (e.g., food deprivation), may never be exactly reproduced.

  5. Technically, any environmental event or condition that would establish the doll as a reinforcer and evoke behaviors that have produced the doll in the past could be categorized as “MOs for doll.” These may include not having played with that doll for a while, seeing the dollhouse, being asked to find the doll, and so on.

  6. Technically, a transitive conditioned motivating operation (CMO–T) that establishes the value of another stimulus (i.e., the spoon) as a conditioned reinforcer (Michael, 2007).

  7. Aversive stimuli establish their absence as a form of negative reinforcement and evoke all behaviors (escape and avoidance) that in the past have produced their removal. Given that aversive stimuli are correlated with differential effectiveness and not availability of their removal as reinforcers, they are best classified as MOs and not as SDs (Michael, 1982, 2007; Miguel, 2013).

  8. Even though I am using the term response generalization to describe the emission of novel mand forms, the definition is not universally agreed upon and may not encompass all processes that may lead to the emission of a novel response (Stewart et al., 2013).

  9. The term elicit is reserved to describe control of unconditioned or conditioned stimuli over reflexive unconditioned or respondently conditioned responses. It should never be used to refer to discriminative control of operant relations (Michael, 2004).

  10. Metonymical tact extension (or control). See Skinner (1957, pp. 99–102).

  11. Transfer of function.

  12. In this specific example, a selection-based mand.


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The author wishes to thank Mirela Cengher, Danielle LaFrance, Hank Schlinger, and Mark Sundberg for their invaluable comments on previous versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Caio F. Miguel.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.

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Miguel, C.F. The Generalization of Mands. Analysis Verbal Behav 33, 191–204 (2017).

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  • Discriminative stimuli
  • Generalization
  • Mand
  • Motivating operation
  • Verbal behavior