Eco-behavior: characteristics and operation

Eco-behavior is a concept that derives from the work of Skinner Verbal Behavior (1957), where he explains how imitation is essential for language acquisition.

Then we will see what echo behavior is and how it is studied in psychology.

    The beginnings of speech development in childhood

    When children are young, their spoken language is mainly composed of innate sounds and babbling typical of their mother tongue.

    It is the people around him (in particular the parents) who shape the vocal productions of the child, by successive approaches. It means reinforce similar sounds more and more in the target word, until it is what the child learns to say, and which ends up being incorporated into his verbal repertoire.

    Thus, thanks to the environment and as they grow up, their vocabulary is richer and more varied.

    Tongue can also be seen as a behavior, As we will see later. So-called operant conditioning, which was introduced by Skinner, is a form of teaching whereby a subject is more likely to repeat forms of behavior that have positive consequences and less to repeat those that have negative consequences.

    This type of conditioning is the basis of many behaviors, including eco-behavior.

    What is eco-behavior?

    Echo behavior is verbal behavior (for example, uttering a word), which it is emitted in the presence of a vocal stimulus and is socially reinforced by its sound resemblance. Ecoic means to belong or relate to echo, that is, to sound.

    So, for example, saying “pen” when someone says “pen” is reinforced by a “very good” (or some other word that acts as a reinforcer). In simpler terms, this would be what we generally call “repeating”.


    To understand a little more how these types of behaviors are modeledLet’s explain the sequence that would be used.

    First, a discriminatory stimulus will appear, which is always audible (eg “Di”); then the voice response would appear (eg “pen”) and finally social reinforcement (eg, “Very good”, a smile, etc.).

    Echo behavior and verbal stimulus share what is known as point-to-point correspondence (a formal similarity).

    The verbal discriminators mentioned (“I gave money”) would in turn act as a verbal command which, when executed (when the child says “money”), will be reinforced and increase the likelihood of it reproducing. correctly word in the future.

    This sequence that we have mentioned would be repeated, and if the vocal response is always given after the discriminating stimulus, then we say that behavior is under the control of verbal stimuli. When this structure is formed and maintained over time, the child eventually acquires the corresponding words and incorporates them into his repertoire.

      How to value the learning of this type of behavior?

      In educational practice, to teach vocabulary to a child and improve his language, we can use the discriminatory “saying” attached to the word we want to teach; for example “I am going to play”.

      Another example would be when, while learning a new language, the instructor says (eg, Example) “sparingly” and then adds “can you say that?”, To induce echo behavior. In other words, verbal discriminants can also be questions.

      The écoicas lead the stay by social reinforcement (generalized and conditioned), and therefore, they can be generalized at different times and contexts with appropriate training. Thus, the child can reproduce new sounds (words) introduced by adults.

      Evolution towards pathology: echolalia

      However, there may be cases when the behavior of the echo is not functional and becomes pathological: these are the so-called echolales. these they appear when the child systematically repeats a word or a fragment of the listener’s speech.

      Sometimes echolalia can be delayed, when it appears minutes, hours, days or even weeks after being heard. Ecolalia is frequently associated with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability. It is often a form of self-stimulation.

      On the other hand, children can sometimes reinforce their own vocal behaviors on their own by producing sounds that they have heard in other people’s speech.

      Changing intonation can be the reinforcement property for the child, And not so much the word itself, as well as another special aspect of the speaker. In this case, it would not be strictly ecological or functional behavior.

      Behavior modification programs

      Eco-behavior is very present in behavior modification programs aimed at specific groups, such as children with intellectual disabilities and / or autism spectrum disorders, already mentioned above. This type of program includes a wide variety of behaviors to be established, including language.

      More precisely in this type of child, the stimulation of language is a primary objective, because it allows the development of other learning.

      the programs they are based on operant conditioning, And for the stimulation of the tongue, the cast is used; thus, at the beginning, the words which come close to the words will be reinforced. At first, they don’t have to be words; it can be syllables, and especially if the child does not yet have a language, for example “cam” to end up saying “truck”.

      As these are intensive programs, the child gradually (always according to his characteristics), it will make sounds more and more similar to the words we are trying to teach.

      As has been said, the reinforcement of the child’s verbal behaviors will allow more complex behaviors, as well as the fact that he can communicate in a more functional way and express emotions, desires, states, etc.

      Bibliographical references:

      • BF, Skinner (1981). Verbal conduct. Mexico: Editorial Trillas Mexico.
      • Pérez, V., Guitérrez, M., Gracía, A., and Gómez, J. (2017). Basic psychological processes: a functional analysis. Madrid (Spain): UNED.

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