Some Applied Implications of a Contemporary Behavior-Analytic Account of Verbal Events

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APA Citation: 

Hayes, S. C., & Wilson, K. G. (1993). Some applied implications of a contemporary behavior-analytic account of verbal events. The Behavior Analyst, 16, 283-301.

Publication Topic: 
Behavior Analysis: Conceptual
Other Third-Wave Therapies: Conceptual
Publication Type: 

Behavior analysts have always intended to develop the principles adequate to the analysis of complex human behavior. Unlike some other wings of the animal learning tradition, behavior analysts were never interested in "the behavior of rats for it's own sake." (Skinner, 1938, p. 441) Rather, the hope was that the analysis of relatively simple nonhuman behaviors in relatively simple environments would pay off as a research strategy (see S. Hayes & L. Hayes, 1992). Whether this strategy would actually work was an empirical matter, because we "can neither assert or deny continuity or discontinuity." (Skinner, 1938, p. 442), but in fact it worked amazingly well. The extension of behavior-analytic principles derived from the study of nonhumans to human conduct has led to the development of interventions that have had a powerful impact on many areas of human concern. Skinner (1938) at first worried that his approach might not be sufficient for the analysis of verbal behavior. By 1957 he was convinced that a straightforward operant analysis worked there as well. But now, over 35 years later, Skinner's analysis of verbal events has become increasingly threadbare. Holes have emerged, on both empirical and theoretical grounds. As a result, the analysis of verbal events from a behavior-analytic viewpoint is more open to alternatives. Skinner's analysis, after all, was never the behavior-analytic account-it was only a behavior-analytic account. The need for an adequate behavior-analytic account of verbal events is perhaps felt the most among clinical radical behaviorists. This wing of the applied arena is distinguishable on the one hand from traditional applied behavior analysis by it's strong interest in complex adult clinical problems that are often seen on an outpatient basis, such as personality disorders, chronic anxiety and similar maladies. It is distinguishable on the other hand from traditional behavior therapy in it's strong interest in clinical issues that transcend traditional syndromal classifications, such as the therapeutic relationship, the nature of emotion, existential angst, and similar topics, and a resultant interest in philosophy and theory (rather than pure technology). As one becomes interested in a theoretically sound approach to the problems of adults seen in the outpatient setting, one is confronted immediately with verbal behavior. Part of what distinguishes the outpatient from the inpatient setting is the decreased ability to manipulate environmental contingencies directly and the reliance on verbal reports for data collection and verbal exchanges as a form of intervention. Thus, the entire field of clinical radical behaviorism is dependent upon an adequate analysis of verbal events.

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