Verbal Behavior

Skinner (1957) identified six elementary verbal operants of mand, tact, echoic, intraverbal, textual, and transcription. Verbal behavior is a behavioral approach to language the describes how language is shaped by the consequences, what happens as a result of speaking, in the environment. This means acquiring, expanding on, and maintaining language learned (verbal behavior) is controlled by variables in the environment (Skinner, 1957). Reinforcement, the reward, for the speaker for engaging in speaking is reinforced by the listener (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Moreover, the response, language, is often controlled by an event in the environment with the exception of a mand, which is controlled by a motivating operation (what the speaker wants). Other verbal operants are described as being under the control of a verbal or nonverbal (Cooper et al, 2007) . With this approach language development occurs through nurture, the consequences of the environment.  The elements listed below are taught as it effects how a person learns to communicate, read, write, and ask what they want, functional communication.


Echoic: This operant occurs when the speaker repeats what another speaker has said; repeating of words, phrases, and vocal behaviors of others (Cooper et al, 2007). It has point-to-point correspondence and formal similarity, meaning it is exactly same has what the previous speaker said. This is under the control of a verbal stimulus. Example: The first person says, “Paris,” and the speaker says, “Paris.”

Tact: This is used to name objects, events, and actions that the speaker has direct contact through any of the senses. Skinner (1957), uses the word as tact as it describes the speaker making contact with the environment. This is under the control of a nonverbal stimulus. Example: The person sees the Eiffel Tower and says, “It’s the Eiffel Tower.”

Mand: This verbal operant is control by what the speaker needs or wants. This term comes from the words: command, demand, and countermand (Cooper et al, 2007). Specific reinforcement is given. Example: A child hasn’t eaten and says, “I want cookie.” The child is then given a cookie.

Intraverbal: A type of verbal operant in which a speaker differentially responds to the verbal behavior of others (Cooper et al, 2007). For example, if asked “What is the capital of France?”, one would respond with “Paris”.

Textual: Reading without any implications that the reader understands what is being read. Understanding what is read is dependent on other verbal and nonverbal operants such as intraverbal behavior and receptive language (Cooper et al, 2007). Example: A person reads the word “France,” on a map and says, “France.”

Transcription: This verbal operant consists of writing and spelling words that are spoken to the individual. Skinner (1957) also referred to this operant as taking dictation. Key components include the production of letters and the accurate spelling of a spoken word. Example: A student hears and instructor say, “Paris,” and writes, “Paris.”



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

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

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