Verbal operators: what they are, type and functioning

Psychologist BF Skinner referred to communication skills as “verbal behavior”; more precisely, it concerns all the vocal or non-vocal operative behaviors intended to be socially reinforced.

Skinner differentiated the verbal operants of June, Each with its own function and meaning. They all revolve around the tongue. In this article, we will know what each of them consists of.

    Verbal operators and verbal behavior according to Skinner

    Psychologist BF Skinner (1957) verbal behavior defined as this reinforcement came from another person. The teaching of verbal repertoires is essential to promote the autonomous development of the child, which is why it must be one of the objectives of their education or of the different interventions that we can apply.

    Verbal operants are different functions that we find in verbal and non-vocal verbal behavior. these were explained by BF Skinner in his book Verbal Behavior (1957). In this work, the author analyzes the verbal behavior of people, traditionally called language, linguistics or discourse.

    There are a total of 6 verbal operants: echoes, commands, keys, intraverbal, autoclitic and textual response, which we will explain below.

      Types of verbal work

      BF Skinner differentiates and defines several types of verbal operators:

      1. Ecoica

      Speaker repeats exactly what another speaker says. It has a point-to-point correspondence with the previous verbal stimulus. It is an imitation of vocal verbal behavior. For example, it would be when a parent says to their baby “garlic” and the baby repeats “garlic”.

      2. Order

      It is a type of verbal operator in which the speaker ask, ask or suggest something you need. The command can be voice or non-voice.

      Here, the antecedent is a state of deprivation, satiety or motivating conditions of the person. It requires the presence of a listener to provide the stimulus which acts as a reinforcer. For example, it would be when a child is thirsty and says “water”.

      3. Touch

      Here the speaker names objects and actions with which he is in direct contact through one of the sensory modalities. In this case, the antecedent is a non-verbal physical stimulus, such as seeing an airplane.

      It is controlled by generalized social reinforcement. An example would be when a child sees a car and says “car”; his mother says to him “Yes affection, it is a car, very good” (reinforces him).

      4. Intraverbal

      The person reacts differently to the verbal behavior of others, i.e. respond to specific statements or questions.

      Here, the antecedent stimulus is a verbal stimulus which controls the response, but which has no point-to-point correspondence with the antecedent. For example, it would be when one child says “Hello” and the other responds “Hello how are you?”

      5. Autoclitical

      Autoclitical verbal operants are non-vocal, and they modify the effects of elementary verbal operants (Controls, keys, echoes and intraverbal) listening. For example, it would be saying “I want the red car”; in this case, “I want” and “red” are the autoclytics with which the command is specified.

      6. Text response

      is what we understand by reading, by reading, Without going into the general understanding of the text. It can be vocal if it is read aloud, or non-vocal if it is read “silently”. For example, this is what the reader is currently doing with this article as it is read.

      working ecoicas

      We will go into a little more detail in the verbal operants of the ecoicas type, because they are among the most important for improving language development.

      This type of operator consists of a correspondence in the “hear-say”. For this reason it has topographic (called point to point similarity) and formal similarity (In other words, it has the same sensory modality) with the verbal stimulus controlling it. Let’s look at an example:

      As we saw in an example, think of an educator who says “MA”. And the student repeats: “MA”. The educator reinforces this response to increase the likelihood that in the future she will repeat “MA” when the verbal stimulus “MA” is presented to her.


      The parrot is an early stage of children’s development, during which they produce vocalizations which are automatically reinforced; they are sounds from the context around them. They are not imitations, but simply vocal sounds, vocalizations. The parrot should be checked for verbal or echo operands before learning.

      The parrot is a step that precedes the echo function; but, if it is not observed, there are a number of procedures and methods to induce it. An example to be induced is the stimulus-stimulus pairing procedure (Sundberg, 1996).

      Thus, the parrot is necessary for the echo responses to develop. Thus, the emission of the parrot response could be a crucial step in the development of echo responses, and may be an early higher order verbal operator.

      Function of echo behavior

      The function of eco-behavior is to allow that the child learns the ability to repeat other people’s sounds, Whether mothers, fathers, teachers or educators. It is also the basis for learning other verbal operators, such as contacts and orders.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Skinner, BF (1957, 1981 translation). Verbal conduct. Editorial Trillas.
      • Sundberg, Mark L., Michael, J., Partington James, W., and Sundberg, Cindy A. (1996). The role of automatic reinforcement in early language acquisition. Verbal Behavior Analysis, 13, 21-37.

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