International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Volume 8 Num. 3 - October 2008


The Ontogenetic Selection of Verbal Capabilities: Contributions of Skinner?s Verbal Behavior Theory to a More Comprehensive Understanding of Language

Volume 8 Num. 3 - October 2008 - Pages 363-386


R. Douglas Greer


I describe how Skinner?s (1957) Verbal Behavior and subsequent research that extended his
theory contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of language with regard to the
ontogenetic selection of verbal behavior. A large corpus of research has shown the applied
utility of the theory for inducing verbal behavior in children missing certain verbal capabilities
and developmental cusps. Other related work on Relational Frame theory, Naming theory,
and Stimulus Equivalence provided the basis for identifying verbal developmental cusps
and capabilities. Evidence on the initial independence of the speaker and listener, and
research identifying the experiences that lead to the joining of the speaker and listener
within the skin, suggests an empirically based theory of verbal development. This work
identifies the preverbal foundations, the speaker and listener components and the experiences
that lead to the capability for learning language incidentally and productive language. The
growing evidence on the ontogenetic sources of language and its development in children
complements the work of other scholarship in language and provides neuroscience with
better tools to validate the relation between brain activity and the effects of experience.

Key words:

ontogenetic selection of verbal capabilities, higher order verbal operants, verbal development, speaker-as-own-listener.

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