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Relational Frame Theory and Skinner’s Verbal Behavior: A Possible Synthesis

Dermot Barnes-Holmes, Yvonne Barnes-Holmes, & Veronica Cullinan

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Barnes-Holmes, D., Barnes-Holmes, Y., & Cullinan, V. (2000). Relational frame theory and Skinner’s Verbal Behavior: A possible synthesis. The Behavior Analyst, 23(1), 69-84.

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Abstract

The current article suggests a possible synthesis of Skinner’s (1957) treatment of verbal behavior with the more recent behavioral interpretation of language known as relational frame theory. The rationale for attempting to combine these two approaches is first outlined. Subsequently, each of the verbal operants described by Skinner is examined and subjected to a relational frame analysis. In each case, two types of operants are identified: one based on direct contingencies of reinforcement and the other based on arbitrarily applicable relational responding. The latter operants are labeled verbal because they can be distinguished from other forms of social behavior, and they appear to possess the symbolic or referential qualities often ascribed to human language. By applying relational frame theory to Skinner’s verbal operants, we aim to contribute towards the development of a modern behavior-analytic research agenda in human language and cognition.

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