International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Volume 8 Num. 3 - October 2008


Conditioning the Behavior of the Listener

Volume 8 Num. 3 - October 2008 - Pages 309-322


Henry D. Schlinger


Among the many behaviors of speakers and listeners, perhaps none is more interesting
from a behavior analytic perspective than those that modify the future behavior of the
listener. Skinner first mentioned this possibility in Verbal Behavior (1957) in a section
titled, ?Conditioning the Behavior of the Listener,? in which he described how certain
relational autoclitics could produce changes in the future behavior of listeners separate
from their more immediate and straightforward conditioned reflexive and discriminative
effects. Oddly, Skinner never returned to this topic, even when he described problem
solving and rule-governed behavior in the late 1960s. As behavior analysts celebrate the
50th anniversary of the publication of Verbal Behavior, I believe that it is important to
revisit this feature of verbal behavior. In the present article, I (a) describe how the
behavior of the listener is ?conditioned? by verbal stimuli, (b) address the question of
whether these changes in the listener?s behavior represent actual operant conditioning or
an analog of it, and (c) discuss some implications for rule-governed behavior.

Key words:

verbal behavior, listening, analog conditioning, rule-governed behavior.

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