What is Verbal Behavior?

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Verbal behavior is the way in which a person communicates with others through spoken or written words. It can be used to express thoughts, feelings, ideas and emotions.

Verbal Behavior is a term that describes the way people communicate their thoughts and feelings through language. It is often used to describe the way autistic people communicate, but it can also be applied to any person with a disability. Read more in detail here: verbal behavior example.

Was B.F. Skinner discussing the method Anne Sullivan used to teach Helen Keller to talk when he authored the 1957 book Verbal Behavior? At the age of nineteen months, when newborns generally start using spoken language, Keller lost her sight and hearing. Although Anne Sullivan, the kid’s teacher, spent years training the youngster to speak, did she use the strategies Skinner mentions? The truth is that she most likely did not use the same concepts that Skinner created over fifty years later. However, there could have been some Applied Behavior Analysis participation.

What the Term Means

Similar ideas to those of applied behavioral analysis are used in verbal behavior therapy. It uses operant conditioning to teach communication to those who have not yet learned a language. Motivational Operation, Discriminating Stimulus, Response, and Reinforcement are its four “contingencies.” These four elements guarantee that students are inspired to learn a language in order to satisfy their requirements.

Background of the Method

B.F. Skinner, a well-known behavioral scientist at the time, published his book presenting numerous views on how language was taught in 1957. The book received criticism since it was only a collection of beliefs based on Skinner’s observations without any supporting empirical research or trials. However, Mark Sundberg, Vincent Carbone, and James Partington began to delve more into the ideas as a way to address certain linguistic shortcomings in the 1970s. This led to the creation of a therapeutic approach based on Skinner’s ideas. Since then, the treatment has been utilized to assist many individuals, including autistic children, in learning language, either on its own or in combination with other methods.

How is communication taught with it?

The primary rationale for employing words in this approach as opposed to Anne Sullivan’s methods for educating Helen Keller is fundamentally different. Skinner endorsed the use of incentive in language instruction. Learning the purpose of the object mentioned is more important than merely learning its name, as in the well-known “water, wa-wa” story. For instance, “water” would have been associated with that satisfied need for Miss Keller if she had been thirsty and her hand had been directed to the water pouring from the pump before she was able to slake her thirst. She may not have thought of the liquid as something that might satisfy her yearning if she had just learnt the liquid’s name. The next time she felt thirsty, she would be inspired to express her desire for water by remembering what it was called. Simply said, people learn languages because they serve a function.

Language Operants

Thinking about an autistic kid who has been taught the word for toilet may help clarify the issue with teaching a list of items’ names without tying them to a purpose, according to Special Learning.com. The youngster is able to utter the term and understands what it is, but when he has to utilize it, he may not know how to do so. That implies that he would not eventually ask to use the restroom in language. Verbal behavior therapy teaches four different sorts, or operants. The first are “mand” words, which are requests. In order to help learners ask for what they want, these are taught to them. The second is the use of tact, or attention-grabbing phrases, to convey thoughts about or bring attention to the object. A person could use the phrase “spider,” for instance, if they saw one creeping up the wall. Intraverbal words, or words used to communicate with others, are the subject of the third category. The fourth strategy is repeating or echoing, which is crucial for retaining a topic.

The Verbal Learning Therapy Process

Learners are taught to communicate both vocally and non-verbally using the four different forms of words. Mands are often given first, and successful reactions result in a favorable conclusion. A therapist may, for instance, hold up a piece of candy while uttering the word “candy.” Then, if a student wants to accept anything, they must demonstrate (either vocally or nonverbally) that they realize it is candy. In a process known as errorless learning, prompts are provided as appropriate to assist pupils in coming up with the right response. Assistance is progressively reduced as kids become better. People are educated that all forms of communication have the potential to be fruitful. To initially, pointing at something is equivalent to pronouncing the word “sugar.” The therapist will eventually attempt to modify the non-verbal behavior to get the desired vocal reaction. The idea that “it is possible to teach everyone the effective use of language” is one of the tenets of verbal behavior therapy.


All educational services for persons with autism come at a hefty price, it is fair to say. As a specialized intervention, verbal behavior therapy is usually not covered by insurance. More frequently, it may be covered by other therapies like speech therapy or applied behavioral analysis. Interventions for autistic people are often covered to some extent, although it will depend on the specific insurance provider or state legal regulations. Services for autistic individuals, such as Verbal Learning treatment, are likely to be quite expensive without financial aid.

How Effective Is Verbal Learning Therapy?

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that Verbal Learning therapy is effective. It is based on a sound learning theory and possesses considerable face validity. It has been used in association with ABA techniques for almost half a century. Unfortunately, what is missing is a lot of research-backed evidence. There is some empirical support for the learning of Language Operants but very few studies explore the effectiveness of Verbal Learning as a whole. This, of course, does not mean it doesn’t work. Rather, it simply has not been studied with a robust scientific process using randomized controlled trials. Further research will be necessary to prove its effectiveness within the scientific community. Despite a lack of empirical support, it is widely used and many people have acquired language skills utilizing its concepts. To those people, there can be no doubt as to the benefits of Verbal Learning therapy.

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amended in May 2020


Verbal behavior therapy is a type of therapy that uses verbal interactions to teach children with autism how to communicate. Reference: verbal behaviour therapy.

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