International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Volume 8 Num. 3 - October 2008


On Skinner?s Definition of Verbal Behavior

Volume 8 Num. 3 - October 2008 - Pages 295-307


David C. Palmer


Descriptive definitions in science are useful insofar as they identify natural phenomena
that hang together in some distinctive way. In 1957, Skinner proposed an unusual definition
of verbal behavior that has subsequently been criticized even by fellow behavior analysts.
Although Skinner did not justify his definition at length in his published work, two
unpublished manuscripts show that he put considerable effort into identifying the implications
of his definition. Certain passages in these manuscripts identify Skinner?s view of the
features that covary to make verbal behavior a coherent topic of study. A consideration
of these passages does not imply that Skinner?s definition is better than alternatives, but
it does clarify that which Skinner thought was distinctive about the subject matter to
which he devoted so much of his career.

Key words:

definition of verbal behavior, descriptive definitions, prescriptive definitions, Skinner, verbal behavior.

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