Verbal Behavior – Part 2

Verbal Behavior Part 2

Ashley Horton

In the last Topic Tuesday I explained the six elementary verbal operants of verbal behavior. This one will go over some more complex verbal behaviors and the autoclitic. Complex verbal behavior includes tact extensions, automatic reinforcement, and private events. The autoclitic, previously mentioned, can be described as verbal behavior about verbal behavior. In other words, an autoclitic emphasizes the context of what is being said and may also be descriptive (Skinner, 1957).

  •   Skinner (1957) distinguished between different types of tact extensions that may generalize to other stimuli and to other properties that are not directly related to a tact.
  •   Some examples would be saying ‘You read well,’ and phrases that you would see in metaphors or similes such as, ‘Juliet is the sun rising in the east.’
  •  Automatic Reinforcement is a component of verbal behavior as this would be the behavior of speaking being rewarded without directly being reinforced and being reinforced by the product of the response (Cooper et al., 2007). For this example it would be asking ‘why.’
  • One example would be the reward to gaining the answer why something happens by reading as opposed to only getting the answer from another person.
  • Private events in verbal behavior refer to stimuli that cannot be seen and are only experienced by the speaker (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). There are instances in which an observable behavior accompanies a private event (Cooper et al., 2007).
  • For instance, a person bumps his/her head. The sensation of pain is not observable, however, through the behavior that accompanies this event, the person saying ‘ow,’ and rubbing his/her head, the observer/listener, can tell the speaker is in pain.
  • An autoclitic may describe the speaker’s own behavior and informs the listener of the verbal operant it accompanies (Skinner, 1957).
  • Some examples include ‘I said tail, I will say tail, or I now say tail.’ The words in italics would be the autoclitic.
  • An autoclitic may also place emphasis on what is being asked of the listener and influence the listener’s actions.
  • For example, if the speaker says, ‘I see water,’ the listener may agree or just respond, on the other hand, if the speaker says, ‘I need water,’ the listener may get a glass of water for the speaker.

Current Research

  • There is current research currently being done on teaching children with autism how to mand, that is, ask for information using “why”
  • One study that has been published by Landa, Hansen, and Shillingsburg (2017) examines how to teach children with autism how to ask for information using “when.”
  • In this study, the students were able to acquire the skill to mand for information (Landa et al., 2017).



Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E. & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis, second edition.    Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson, Merrill Prentice Hill.

Landa, R.K., Hansen, B., & Shillingsburg, M.A. (2017). Teaching mands using ‘when’ to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 50(3) 538-551.

Skinner, B.F. (1957). Verbal Behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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