B.F. Skinner’s Concept of Verbal Behavior
One of the most influential members of the behaviorist movement, as well as among psychologists who study human development was B.F. Skinner (Diessner, 2008, p. 134). Skinner was notable for his description of the acquisition of new behavior through the use of reinenforcement and punishment called operant conditioning (Diessner, 2008). Skinner also contributed his behaviorist explanation of language development through his concept of verbal behavior (Diessner, 2008).
To Skinner verbal behavior is basically a behavior which is “reinenforced through the mediation of others” (Skinner, 1957, p. 2) and ultimately the speaker by applying controlling variables of operant conditioning principles (Burk, 2009; Diessner, 2008). We use words to express many things such as feeling, emotions, ideas, needs and desires, and how a person communicates depends on the verbal community they are a part of, the “community” which encompasses their socio-economic status (class), religion, job/career, culture, etc. (Burton & Kagan, 1994; Diessner, 2008). Skinner states that a “verbal repertoire” can have similar effects on various listeners due to the speaker who possesses different repertoires which are shaped and maintained by different verbal communities and languages (Diessner, 2008, p. 134). It is also noted by Skinner that verbal behavior does not need an audience, and that a speaker can become a listener as a result reinenforcing his own behavior (Diessner, 2008).
The interaction between language and behavior is emphasized by Skinner in Diessner (2008), in which the speaker is “in contact with a situation to which a listener is disposed to respond” (p. 135), and the verbal response from the speaker allows the listener to respond properly. Even though it is implied by communication theory that the speaker and listener share the same meanings in the messages conveyed, Skinner states that meanings are not the same in the speaker and the...
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