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Verbal Operants In ABA: Definition & Examples

In Applied Behavior Analysis, verbal operants are a type of verbal behavior.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 15, 2023
min read

What are Verbal Operants in ABA?

Verbal operants are a type of verbal behavior. They aren't defined by how they appear but by the need that they serve. Verbal behavior theory is a normal way of thinking about the language used by humans.

This includes communication that isn't spoken by mouth. Things such as functional terms and expressing one's thoughts by other means are classified as verbal behavior as well. 

In ABA the listener and speaker are references to expansive roles that aren't bound to words that are spoken only.

Verbal operants are categorized into different areas, which include mand, tact, echoic, autoclitic, and intraverbal. In some cases, the limitation is also listed under the other classifications.

Examples of Verbal Operants

Here are some basic examples of verbal operants. Their responses to spoken languages are representative of a summary of the contingency for every primary verbal operant.

A woman walks into a living room and says to her mother that she wants the remote. The mother picks up the remote control and gives it to the girl. The girl was motivated to get the remote control. She already knew that her mother would give it to her if asked.

The second example involves a student looking out of the window during class.

The student, a male, turns toward his teacher and says how hot it is on that day. 

His teacher replies that it sure is how. In this example, there was a stimulating area in the boy's environment that encouraged him to speak to his teacher, whereby he knew that his teacher would give a response that helped him to receive social consequences in some form.

In the third example, a mother asks her son how he did on a major project that was supposed to be turned in later on that day. The son says that he received an A plus. 

The mother was wishing to get a verbal response instead of an alternative. The aim was to receive a positive response.

A woman says to another mother that the county seat of Los Angeles county is Los Angeles. The other women agree in verbal form. This is indirect verbal behavior with a direct consequence.

Types of Verbal Operants

Here are the types of Operants:

1. The Mand

The mand is the simplest of skills that young children develop early on in their life. It's also known as a request and is considered only if the antecedent is motivated for such an item.

2. The Tact

This is alternatively called labeling. It's a language that's said by a photo or other item. It's sometimes accompanied by questions beginning with what if.

3. The Echoic

This occurs when a verbal reply is sounded immediately after a model. It's when the speaker emits the same sound that was previously heard.

4. The Intraverbal

Intraverbals are a little more complicated. It's when the ability to reply or give an answer to something is possible to do without any sort of visual aid.

5. Listener Responding

It's sometimes referred to as following directions. It's an indicator of how much language is understood by a child. When the rest of the operants shown above are sounded in a natural setting, the listener responds receptively.

6. Motor imitation

This constitutes the ability of a child to make a copy of certain actions said by someone else. It's done through instruction, such as telling a child to copy someone in particular.

Why are Verbal Operants Important?

Verbal operants help when therapists have assessments and build programs for children that need them. Clients need to have good skills in more than one operant. 

It shows clients how to properly express themselves when they want something while knowing exactly what to say, and how to say it.

What are Verbal Operants Controlled By?

Every verbal operant is a controlled motivational operation, which are antecedent, verbal behavior antecedent, and environmental antecedent. Each one of these has consequences, either direct or educational.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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