The Behavior of the Listener

  • B. F. Skinner


In the traditional view of a speech episode, held by philosophers for thousands of years, the speaker perceives some part of the world in the literal sense of capturing or taking it in (or rather, because there is no room for the world itself, taking in a copy or representation) and then puts the copy into words, the meanings of which correspond in some way with what the speaker perceived. The listener takes the meanings out of the words and composes another copy or representation. The listener thus receives or conceives what the speaker has perceived. Something has been communicated in the sense of made common to both speaker and listener. A message has been sent, the content of which is sometimes called information. Information theory, however, was invented to deal only with the structural features of a message (how many bits or bytes could be sent through a telephone line or stored in a computer?). The content of a message is more appropriately called knowledge, from a root that gave the Greek word gnomein, the Latin gnoscere, the late-Latin co-gnitio, and at last our own cognition.


Verbal Behavior Aversive Consequence Nest Building Conditioned Reinforcer Literal Sense 
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  1. Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Skinner, B. F. (1935). The generic nature of the concept of stimulus and response. Journal of General Psychology, 12, 40–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. F. Skinner
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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