Verbal behaviour focuses on the human behaviour that comprises of linguistics, speech or language. Verbal behaviour is controlled by the same variables as the other operant behaviour. It can be divided into verbal behaviour that is mediated by nature and verbal behaviour that is mediated by other people. A mand is a verbal behaviour that is typically a command or a demand. A mand is a motivating operator in which response is specified by the characteristic reinforcement. Mands as a verbal behaviour are not necessarily required to be vocal. In order to establish a good verbal behaviour, a person has to be under the control of verbal stimuli.
When children are between the age of two and three, they are usually very inquisitive and they ask many questions. Children at that young age learn to obtain specific information by asking questions. Asking questions is also very vital in their language skills since it helps them in expanding their vocabulary rapidly. It is also important since it helps a child in conversations, social interactions and academic behaviour. However, children with autism are faced with the problem of their inability to ask questions. This has led to many researches that have tried to come up with solutions that lead to question asking in individuals with language delays. This is to help the individuals in developing language.
Twardosz and Baer carried out the first research in 1973 where they motivated developmentally disabled teenagers to ask questions by showing them blank cards and saying the letters on the cards, after teaching them six letters. The ones who gave correct responses were showered with praises and tokens. This method was successful since it stimulated the teenagers to ask “what” questions and generalised to forma and colour. The main aim of the research was to study the use of language techniques so as to be able to help the children with language delays to ask questions. However, research done in the later years showed that an individual should be motivated by an establishing operation and not rewards such as tokens and praises.
It was observed that stabling operation that is relevant to asking questions will increase in value of specific verbal information as a way of conditioned reinforcement. When Twardosz and Baer used a reverse condition of giving tokens before giving the correct answer, the rate of asking questions dropped drastically to zero, which means that the response was being controlled by tokens, praises and blank cards which are non-verbal stimuli. Therefore, the response functioned as tact and not as a mand. It is important to ensure that when teaching a child to ask questions, the primary source of control is an establishing operation and not a discriminative stimulus. When an establishing operation is not the primary source of control, it evokes a child to give a right response on the surface but for the wrong reasons.
When a child is at a young age, he or she tends to imitate what the people in the environment are saying. Imitation is a form of language learning and it is a behaviour that is under the control of verbal stimulus. The verbal stimulus and the verbal response share a point to point correspondence. In echoic behaviour, the speaker repeats what is said. The stimulus is auditory while the response is vocal
It is noted that the problem of verbal behaviour is that it is a dependant variable. Verbal behaviour depends on a stimulus that motivates it and this is problematic. However, criteria for strength were suggested by some researchers such as Skinner. They include; energy-level, emission, repetition and speed. These criteria come under the control of other factors which make emission a fifty-fifty measure but speed, energy-level and repetition show possible indications of relative strength.
A research done in 2000 by Williams, Kelly and Donley showed that the manipulation of establishing operation and verbal communication leads to the asking of questions that are not mand for information. The researchers did not use any discriminative stimuli even when the children gave correct responses. They wanted the establishing operation to be the primary source of stimuli so as to be able to determine if the mands “who” and “where?” could be taught to children with autism. In typical speakers, the mand “where?” is used when the value of information increases in regard to the location of an item.
Sandberg, M. L. (2002). The Analysis of Verbal Behaviour. Contriving Establishing Operation to Teach Mands for Information, 15-29.
Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behaviour.
Twardosz, S. &. (1973). Training two severly retarded adolescents to ask questions. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 655-661.
Williams, G. D. (2000). Teaching children with autism to ask questions about hidden objects. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 627-630.