Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

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Invited Tutorial #157
CE Offered: BACB
B. F. Skinner's Analysis of Language: Misconceptions and Misunderstandings
Sunday, May 24, 2015
10:00 AM–10:50 AM
Grand Ballroom C3 (CC)
Area: VRB/TPC; Domain: Theory
BACB CE Offered. CE Instructor: Barbara E. Esch, Ph.D.
Chair: Barbara E. Esch (Esch Behavior Consultants, Inc.)
Presenting Authors: : MATTHEW P. NORMAND (University of the Pacific)

Some have suggested that the definition of verbal behavior offered by B. F. Skinner (1957) fails to capture the essence of language insofar as it is too broad and not functional. In this tutorial, Dr. Matthew Normand will explain how the ambiguities of Skinner's definition are not an indictment of it, and show that suggestions to the contrary are problematic because they suffer a critical error of scientific reasoning. Specifically, he will explain that (a) no clear definition of verbal behavior is possible because there is no natural distinction between verbal and nonverbal behavior; (b) attempts at an immutable definition are essentialistic; and (c) Skinner's functional taxonomy of language is in no way affected by the particulars of any definition of verbal behavior. Moreover, Dr. Normand will explain how categorical definitions, and the vagaries that sometimes arise from them, are not unique to Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior.

Instruction Level: Basic
Target Audience:


Learning Objectives:
  1. State the two primary arguments used to question the validity of Skinner’s definition of verbal behavior.
  2. State the two ways that the term “function” is used by behavior analysts and describe how Skinner’s taxonomy of verbal operants addresses both uses.
  3. Describe the shortcomings of the argument that Skinner’s definition of verbal behavior is not functional. Use the concept of essentialism in your answer.
MATTHEW P. NORMAND (University of the Pacific)
Dr. Matthew Normand received his B.A. in psychology from Western New England College, his M.A. in behavior analysis from Western Michigan University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in cognitive and behavioral sciences from Florida State University. He is an associate professor of psychology at the University of the Pacific and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). At Pacific, his primary responsibilities are teaching courses in the experimental analysis of behavior, basic and applied, and supervising behavior analysis research and practicum work. Dr. Normand's primary scientific interests, broadly defined, are the application of basic behavioral principles to problems of social significance (including obesity and community health issues), verbal behavior, and the philosophy of science. He has authored more than three-dozen scientific papers and book chapters and more than 100 conference presentations. He is the current editor of The Behavior Analyst, an associate editor for the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, a former associate editor for the journals The Behavior Analyst, The Analysis of Verbal Behavior and Behavior Analysis in Practice, and he serves on the editorial board of Behavioral Interventions. Dr. Normand is the 2011 recipient of the B. F. Skinner New Researcher Award from the American Psychological Association (Div. 25).
Keyword(s): language taxonomy, Skinner's analysis, VB definition



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