Verbal Behavior

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Verbal Behavior (VB) is an approach to teaching language that relies on an analysis of how verbal language is used. This concept was initially developed by B. F. Skinner, an American psychologist.

In VB, multiple functions of language are taught to students (called “verbal operants”). For example, saying the word “apple” to request an apple is a “mand.” Saying “apple” when you see an apple is called a “tact;” repeating “apple” when someone else says it is an “echoic;” and saying “apple” when someone asks, “What’s something red that you eat?” is an “intraverbal.”  These different functions need to be taught, and doing so is much more complex than merely teaching the word.

Requesting is the first verbal skill taught because it is based on a child’s motivation. Learning how to make requests also should improve behavior because children are less frustrated when they are able to make their needs known. Some parents say VB is a more natural form of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) because VB capitalizes on motivation and natural environment teaching. For example, if a child sees his favorite “Woody” doll from Toy Story™ on his toy shelf, just out of reach, the goal is to teach him to ask an adult for the doll. Initially when the child makes any effort to express that he wants Woody in any way (a word, a sign, echoing the word), the child is reinforced for that effort by receiving the Woody doll, following his request. Over time the child learns to express his needs more efficiently and effectively by asking, “May I have my Woody doll please,” or “Please give me my Woody doll.”

VB programs also include Intensive Teaching (Discrete Trial) using a set of teaching procedures that include fast paced teaching and mixing and varying verbal operants. VB is used in both educational and home settings.  Parents and caregivers can be instructed on how to use and reinforce VB teachings at home.

VB language:

  • The word for a request is a “mand”
  • Labeling objects is called “tact”
  • Conversation or social language are called “intraverbals”
  • Mimicking language is called “echoic”

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Last Updated: November 28, 2016

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