An Introduction to Verbal Behavior

Norman Peterson


Learn the key concepts, terms, and approach of B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior and language. Skinner’s analysis serves as the basis for many interventions in applied behavior analysis, and contributes to a functional understanding of human language.

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B.F. Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior provided a conceptual framework for both researchers and clinicians interested in human language. That book had two major components. First, it introduced a set of new concepts for classifying and analyzing verbal behavior. Second, it then used these new concepts to develop an innovative and profound analysis and interpretation of factors that account for the behavior of an individual speaker. However, much of the power and intricacies of that analysis are lost if the introductory material is not mastered first. This tutorial—based on a programmed instructional text of the same name first published by Behavior Associates, Inc. in 1978—provides a way to quickly and thoroughly master those concepts with a fully interactive, multimedia introduction to verbal behavior.

About the Author

Norman Peterson, Ph.D.

Dr. Norm Peterson recently retired as the Director of Operations at the Foundation for Behavioral Resources. He earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Western Michigan University, where he was one of the first graduates of that department’s doctoral program in Behavior Analysis. Prior to his work at the Foundation, Dr. Peterson also served as a faculty member at Western Michigan University and as a senior HR Consultant at Consumers Energy.

Learning Objectives
Upon completing this tutorial, the learner should be able to:

  1. Identify definitions and examples of key theoretical concepts in Skinner’s analysis of human language (including verbal behavior, verbal stimulation, thematic and formal control, tact,
    mand, echoic, intraverbal, textual, taking dictation, audience control, types of extension, multiple causation, secondary verbal behavior, and autoclitic mands and tacts)
  2. Distinguish between formal and thematic control of verbal behavior
  3. Classify examples of the different ways verbal operants can be extended
  4. Specify the different ways we learn to respond to private stimulation
  5. Analyze samples of natural language using the terms and concepts of Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior
Technical Requirements
The tutorial requires only an active internet connection and a relatively modern web browser with JavaScript enabled.
Accuracy, Utility, and Risks
The content of this tutorial should be considered quite accurate, as it was written by an expert in the field and reviewed for accuracy by a number of other experts, including Dr. Richard Malott, Dr. Jack Michael, Dr. Linda Parott Hayes, and Greg Stikeleather. This tutorial should benefit any psychologist, behavior analyst, student, or behavioral science professional who would like to have a conceptual framework for analyzing human language that is more functional than the structural analyses of traditional linguistics or cognitive psychology. It will be particularly beneficial to those working to establish verbal repertoires with children or adults who have language delays. This tutorial will not provide you with training in specific interventions or methods based on Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior, but it will provide you with a conceptual understanding of the theoretical basis of such interventions and methods. There is little to no risk associated with completing this tutorial, aside from the physical risks associated with any computer work (e.g., repetitive stress injuries and eyestrain) and possibly boredom.
This tutorial is based on a programmed textbook that was initially written as part of the author’s dissertation research at Western Michigan University and originally published in 1978. It was launched as an online tutorial on FoxyLearning in Adobe Flash format on May 28, 2010, with the first HTML5 version launching in May 2012. Significant updates were also released in June 2013 and January 2020.
Survey Results
Below are live results from the voluntary survey users are asked to complete at the end of this module.
You can launch the lessons of the open-access version of this module using the links below. The open-access version does not include the final quiz, but the rest of the content is the same. Please note that your progress on open-access modules is not tracked or recorded.

Module Content

Introductory Concepts
Elementary Relationships
Extensions of Verbal Behavior
Multiple Controlling Relationships
Building on the Elementary Relationships

276 reviews for An Introduction to Verbal Behavior

4.19 out of 5
Based on 276 reviews
Showing 7 of 276 reviews (2 star). See all 276 reviews
  1. 5 out of 5

    Steven Rivers (verified buyer)

    Very much enjoyed the training. It was entertaining and informative. I like how each of the operants were described and knowledge checks allowed for a review of the information.

    (2) (0)
  2. 5 out of 5

    Liza Geonie (verified buyer)

    Comprehensive and well done! I thought I knew all about verbal behavior but this really helped expand my knowledge and understanding of this concept!

    (1) (0)
  3. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Coker (verified buyer)

    Great way to hit every angle of verbal behavior and nice leveled structure

    (1) (0)
  4. 5 out of 5

    Mary Garlington (verified buyer)

    Would recommend

    (1) (0)
  5. 5 out of 5

    Amy J Williams (verified buyer)

    Challenging to do online, but overall a great course.

    (1) (0)

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Q & A

I was wondering if you have a reference list available for this course. I'm particularly interested in those related to tacting private events. Thanks! LaTosha Lafferty asked on March 6, 2021

Alas, we do not have a reference list for this tutorial. The list would probably be quite small, though, as the tutorial is based almost entirely on Skinner's book, Verbal Behavior. The tutorial is focused on teaching the concepts introduced in that book and not so much on a literature review of any of those concepts.

Eric Fox answered on March 7, 2021 store manager
(0) (0)

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