Why is it said that tacts "make contact with the world" any more than other verbal operants? avatar of asker

Anonymous



This is the first question in a series of Q & As to come.  Thanks for the question about tacts - I love to discuss verbal behaviour!

B.F. Skinner categorized our verbal behaviour into separate operants based on how they function for the speaker.  Just like our physical behaviour, verbal behaviour is also under the control of social and environmental events.  Depending on the arrangement of those events, one of several verbal operants may be at play.  I wrote a brief primer on verbal behaviour here.

A tact occurs when, in the presence of a non-verbal stimulus, a person names or states what is happening and a listener responds with a general social reinforcer - usually acknowledgement, praise or further conversation about said thing/event/experience.   Some examples:

Upon hearing a siren, a child says “Firetruck!” and a parents agrees and says “Yes, that’s a firetruck”

When tasting a doughnut, I say “Hmmm…this is so good!” and my husband smiles.

Upon seeing a celebrity on the street, someone states, “That’s [name!]” and their friends start talking about how great an actor they are.  

When I walk into a high school and I can smell cafeteria cookies, I say “The cookies smell so good” and my colleague says we should get some later.

Someone touches a hot pan and cries out “Ouch that was hot!” and another person then asks, “Are you okay?”

The reason why tacts are said to “make contact with the world” more than other verbal operants is because of their direct contingency with one of our senses. In the examples above I highlighted our five senses (there are actually seven senses but that’s a whole other post).  A tact is our way of sharing with others how or what we are sensing in the world around us.  These sensations are often private but through a tact we make them public. The non-verbal stimuli can also be a thought or feeling, e.g., “I’m sad” which we may share when others are around.  

A tact is also our way of putting us in contact with our social world. We make comments to the people around us, who will then acknowledge what we say and may engage with us further on it. 

Tacting is also the way in which children develop their vocabulary and concepts, teaching them a name for all the novel stimuli in their lives and then how to categorize them according to common variables.  In the first example, the siren may have been from an ambulance (where emergency vehicles each have their own distinct sound).  The parent then corrects their child saying, “No, that is an ambulance”.  Now the child is learning that a siren sound can be either “firetruck” or “ambulance” (or police too). With further experiences like the example above, the child will learn to discriminate between the two siren sounds and have two different tacts depending on which sound they hear.

All of this learning and social engagement from one little (but BIG) verbal operant.    

Behaviour Analysis Q & A

I got an anonymous ask in my mailbox with a few different questions.  I am going to break them down into their own separate Q & A and answer them throughout the week.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, continue to send those asks my way.  I can take a few days to answer as I go digging into some of my resources.  Responding to your asks help me study as well as to practice my verbal behaviour when it comes to disseminating behaviour analysis to potential consumers.

Three-term contingency of the day: Make a decision!

  • Antecedent: Husband is asking what we should have for dinner out of two options. We are discussing two equally pleasing options.
  • Behaviour: I decide on one (sushi) and announce said decision.
  • Consequence: Husband acknowledges. We order sushi. No more questioning about what to have for dinner.
  • Sometimes making a decision is actually "escape from indecision" (Skinner, 1953, p. 211). Not wanting the discussion to go on for much longer I just picked an option. I was hungry. Indecision prolonged our wait for dinner. The made decision, now announced to my husband resulted in no further delay. The back and forth was over.
  • A reminder that not all choices made are a true reflection of preference. The analysis behind choice behaviour has to also consider the response effort of either option provided, the current state of deprivation or satiation, whether the person can discriminate between the options, whether the person offering the choice is more or less likely to approve of and/or deliver an option (i.e., be a source of positive reinforcement) and any possible aversive antecedent events which makes choosing something terminate that aversive event (i.e., negative reinforcement).
  • All that to consider for one "easy" decision.

"It is of little help to tell a man to use his “will power” or his “self-control”. Such an exhortation may make self-control slightly more probable by establishing additional aversive consequences of failure to control but it does not help anyone to understand the actual process. An alternative analysis of the behavior of control should make it possible to teach relevant techniques."

B.F. Skinner (from Science and Human Behavior)

When we shame people into being “stronger” or to demonstrate some control we are making an assumption that to do so is within the person; like a switch we can turn on and off. So much of our “self-control” that we pride ourselves on is actually attributed to stimulus control in our environment. Therefore, when a person fails to demonstrate “self-control” it is their environment that is lacking that control and not the person. This means there is behavioral technology that can be used to change it.

Hi, feel like dropping some book suggestions by chance? I'd love to expand my book collection from "I won't be able to finish all of these in the next five years!" to "Okay now it's just getting ridiculous." avatar of asker

cognitivedefusion



You means besides the entire B.F. Skinner collection?

In all seriousness, if you have not yet consumed the following books, I highly recommend them for your library (as well as the library of any behaviour analyst in training…besides the ‘White Book’ of course).  This is not exclusive to just behaviour analysts however, but anyone looking to benefit from a behaviour analytic approach (which means there are other must-have ABA books not on this list but are specific to people practicing in the field).

Let’s just get the Skinner out of the way….

  • Science and Human Behavior (B.F. Skinner)
  • Verbal Behavior (B.F. Skinner)
  • About Behaviorism (B.F. Skinner) …for a good overview of the arguments made against behaviourism and the counter-arguments
  • Beyond Freedom & Dignity (B.F. Skinner) …this was the book that helped me to see the greater application (and oft misuse of) behaviour analytic principles in society and how we can solve many of our problems thinking like behaviour analysts

Behaviour Analysis Books:

  • Concepts and Principles of Behavior Analysis (Jack Michael)
  • Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching (Julie Varga)
  • Functional Behavior Assessment, Diagnosis and Treatment (Ennio Ciapani & Keven Schock)
  • Prevent, Teach, Reinforce (Glen Dunlap et al.)
  • Science of Consequences (Susan Schneider)

Other related books (which I reference a fair bit)

  • Dual Diagnosis (edited by Dorothy Griffiths, C. Stravakaki, and J. Summer)
  • The Complete Guide Asperger’s Syndrome (Tony Attwood)
  • The Explosive Child (Ross Greene) 
  • Punished by Rewards (Alfie Kohn) …because you have to know where your critics stand on the topic
  • Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman) 

And as a personal resource for myself:  Emotional Alchemy (Tara Bennet-Goleman) 

And now my wishlist which (to expand upon my understanding of behaviour analysis) and which you may also find interesting:

  • Radical Behaviorism for ABA Practitioners (James Johnston)
  • Rule Governed Behavior (Steven C. Hayes) … or really any other book by this man
  • Modern Perspectives on B.F. Skinner and Contemporary Behaviorism (edited by James Todd & Edward Morris)
  • Behavior Analysis of Child Development (Sidney Bijou)

Of course there are others to go on that wish list but I think I’ll stop there for now.  Any of them pique your interest?

This was a discriminative stimulus (SD) for reinforcement in the form of tasty lemon zest or fresh ginger until it took a layer of my skin with it.
Now, it’s an SD(P) signaling punishment in the form of pain. I use it ever so slowly now or just ask my husband to grate for me; thus, avoiding it altogether.     
Items in our environment acquire reinforcing or punishing properties based on the outcomes (i.e., consequences) that occur immediately after its use.  If the outcome was desirable or “worked” for us, then we are likely to make use of that item in the same way again (behaviour increases = reinforcement).  If however the outcome was not favourable, “did not work”, then we are less likely to use that item in the same way again (behaviour decreases = punishment).  This is also how we learn to avoid things that have punished our behaviour in the past.    
When we are trying to understand why someone will or will not do something (i.e., behave a certain way) it is important to gather information on the history of consequences with that behaviour/task/response and its related items or materials (i.e., stimuli) in the environment.  

This was a discriminative stimulus (SD) for reinforcement in the form of tasty lemon zest or fresh ginger until it took a layer of my skin with it.

Now, it’s an SD(P) signaling punishment in the form of pain. I use it ever so slowly now or just ask my husband to grate for me; thus, avoiding it altogether.     

Items in our environment acquire reinforcing or punishing properties based on the outcomes (i.e., consequences) that occur immediately after its use.  If the outcome was desirable or “worked” for us, then we are likely to make use of that item in the same way again (behaviour increases = reinforcement).  If however the outcome was not favourable, “did not work”, then we are less likely to use that item in the same way again (behaviour decreases = punishment).  This is also how we learn to avoid things that have punished our behaviour in the past.    

When we are trying to understand why someone will or will not do something (i.e., behave a certain way) it is important to gather information on the history of consequences with that behaviour/task/response and its related items or materials (i.e., stimuli) in the environment.  

Hello! It's been less than a week since I graduated from high school (something for which I worked long and hard) and I've been feeling pretty down for these past few days (sad/directionless/empty). My boyfriend suggested that I might be experiencing a post-reinforcement pause. Could that be what this is? avatar of asker

simply-paradoxical



cognitivedefusion:

First off, I’m sorry to hear you have felt directionless in light of school ending. I want to just quick point out that I cannot give any sort of input on diagnosis or treatment outside of speaking with a professional should you be concerned, and perhaps it could be a good option for you in trying to find some direction again!

However, considering you are talking about schedules of reinforcement, which is not a diagnosis or inherently indicative of pathology, I will address that topic in a more broad sense. I’m going to tag behaviouristatplay in the event that I miss something or am mistaken on this, too!

For people who are not aware, postreinforcement pause refers to an effect associated with a fixed ratio schedule of reinforcement. This refers to a schedule of reinforcement where an individual, or participant/subject, receives some form of reward (e.g., giving a rat food) after performing some behavior a fixed number of times (e.g., pressing a lever 5 times) in order to reinforce the behavior. What happens is after the rat, in this example, presses the lever 5 times and receives food, there is a “pause” in responding; this is the postreinforcement pause. Domjan (2009) said this could be conceptualized almost as procrastination before re-initiating the task due to being “not quite ready to tackle the job,” though not so much due to resting, and thus it might be more aptly labeled the pre-ratio pause.

Anyways! If you’re trying to figure out whether this applies to you, broadly speaking, the first question I would ask is: what was the fixed ratio reinforcement? What behavior were you performing X times to receive a reward? Were you being reinforced after a specific number of specific behaviors? And what was being reinforced? What behavior? How was it being reinforced? Is the behavior no longer occurring on account of “procrastination” before initiating the sequence of behaviors to receive future reward again?

So if you put a rat in a cage and train it to press a lever 5 times before receiving food, then you will eventually witness postreinforcement pause after sufficient trials. But if you take the rat out of the cage entirely and behavior changes, would we attribute that to postreinforcement pause? I would say no.

When you talk about feelings you get into the realm of mentalism, or the focus on internal mental states. When talking about behavioral concepts such as fixed ratio schedules of reinforcement, rarely (if ever) are we even thinking about mental states. We’re more concerned with overt, objective behavior. We don’t deny that thoughts/feelings exist, but they just don’t play a role on many behavioral topics because we cannot observe them, and often people misattribute their behaviors to their thoughts anyways. “I acted this way because I had this thought.” Behaviorism would reject that sentiment, and so it doesn’t really make its way into most behavioral topics.

Often the layman’s meaning of “reinforcement” refers to some sort of feel-good reward, but in behaviorism that’s not what we’re talking about. Reinforcement can actually bring out bad thoughts/feelings so long as it increases the probability of a behavior being performed, which is often what happens in cases of pathology such as depression or anxiety! So I wonder if your boyfriend may be misunderstanding the meaning of the word “reinforcement” in this context, as feeling sad/down does not indicate a change in reinforcement from a behavioral standpoint, but rather your subsequent behavioral patterns and whether a behavior increases/decreases.

I’m just rambling at this point, but hopefully some of this makes sense? Keep an eye out on this ask in the event behaviouristatplay responds or clarifies some point I missed or am misunderstanding as she is far brighter than I in this area!

Weighing in here…

cognitivedefusion provided good questions to consider re: what is currently happening and the likelihood of a post-reinforcement pause (as well as a great description of post-reinforcement pause and where it comes from).

As already stated, the “pause” is simply a period of time where there are no observed responses.  There is not necessarily a feeling of “being down” associated with it.  After some time (perhaps to consume the reinforcer or re-establish motivation for it), the rate of responding will increase again to levels that earn our leaner another reinforcer.  When studying, I might for example, set myself up on schedule where I read five pages and can play a game of Candy Crush Saga. Once the game is finished it might take some time to get started again (oh look, what else is happening on Facebook) and finish the next five pages.  Since the delivery of reinforcement is not based on time, I can essentially take as much time as I want before I am motivated for another round of Candy Crush Saga.

Another thought to consider may be the quality and quantity of reinforcement you are receiving now versus when you were at school.  School can be a very rich source of reinforcement - social reinforcement (e.g, peer attention, teacher feedback), mastery (i.e., that feeling of accomplishment from task completion), token reinforcement (e.g., grades, awards) etc.  Often when we change environments, it takes some time before we find new sources of reinforcement.  Are there things you are currently doing (or have plans on doing) that will allow you to come in contact with similar levels of reinforcement as before?  In the face of change, one might consider establishing new routines and patterns of behaviour so that contact with reinforcement can still occur.  You may not be able to perform your usual repertoire but you can learn to do something else - whether related to employment, volunteering, social events, taking time for leisure or to learn more about something you find interesting.  All of these can become new sources of reinforcement outside of high school.

So congrats on your graduating!  You did it!  May that hard work and effort lead you to even more reinforcement.  

I'm studying for my BACB exam, and your blog has been extraordinarily helpful to me! Whenever I find myself uncertain of a definition, concept, etc, I head over here and see what you've posted and it's really cleared up any questions I've had. Now, I have a topic I can't find on here- stimulus generalization and a stimulus generalization gradient. I've re-read that section of Cooper, Heron, Heward, but still am feeling a little unsure about the topic. Thanks!! avatar of asker

Anonymous



Hi there Anonymous

Thanks for checking out my corner of the internet and your feedback on how helpful my posts have been.  I love getting questions because I am also studying for the exam.  I have found that answering questions in my own words and experiences has improved my understanding and fluency.

So, stimulus generalization: it occurs when new but similar stimuli evoke the same response. An example of this occurred during my recent trip to Denmark and Germany where slight variations of such things as street signs, electrical outlets and bathroom fixtures were ever present.  

For example, in Berlin the pedestrian walk signs look like this:image

They share similarities with pedestrian signals here in North America.  The signal on the left is red similar to the red hand that typically cues “stop”.  Meanwhile the signal on the right looks like a man walking which is similar to the walking icon in our traffic lights.  We quickly learned to stop when we saw the sign on the left and wait for the sign on the right before walking into the street.  

In Denmark it is further complicated by having to discriminate between signals for pedestrians and signals for bicyclists but we soon learned that one too.

Stimulus generalization gradient is the degree of change in response rate with these new stimuli.  The rate of responding to the trained cue (or discriminative stimulus [SD]) - in this case the North American signals - is measured and compared to the rate of responding to the new cues (i.e., SD2, SD3, etc.).  It is likely that new, untrained stimuli will cause the response rate to deteriorate somewhat but the goal is obviously to remain fluent in the presence of either cue (SD).  If then, for example my response rate was 100% successful in the presence of the original cue (SD) and that changed to 95% success rate with German signals, then down further to 90% with Danish signals, you can graph those results and see the gradient change between them.

Hope this helps answer your questions regarding both stimulus generalization and the stimulus generalization gradient.  Feel free to hit me up for more examples or ask more questions.  Best of luck on your exam!  We can do this! 

~ Tricia-Lee

From Science and Human Behavior (B.F. Skinner)
This is key when defining a behaviour we want to measure and analyze. We must describe a behaviour by how it looks or sounds and not by traits often associated with it.  This is known as providing an operational definition.  
Often I get referrals with a description, “Needs anger management”.  When I go in for my initial visit I spend some time defining what exactly is meant by ‘anger management’.  I am more interested in what the learner is doing - their actions or the words they are saying.  Words like “He gets angry” and “It upsets him” get used frequently but these are hard to see.  What I do when I am upset might look quite different from what you or others might do.  Therefore, my operational definition will be different from that of someone else.  
I cannot change the feeling of upset but I can have an impact on what someone does as part of their being upset. Therefore, the team must describe what is currently happening using verbs.
He pushes people.
She throws her books.
[Name] will hit their head and pull their hair out.
All of these actions I can see.  All of these actions can be counted.  All of the actions can be looked for and notes made about what else is happening in time.  This allows us to move from aspect (e.g., "He gets angry") to function (i.e., for what purpose the behaviour serves; "When told "no" he is likely to push the adult out of the way. This is often followed by him accessing the item he was told ‘no’ to.").  With these specifics and details we are better able to match an intervention or teaching plan; one that is based on the function not aspect.  
This is behaviour analysis.  No anger management manual required.

From Science and Human Behavior (B.F. Skinner)

This is key when defining a behaviour we want to measure and analyze. We must describe a behaviour by how it looks or sounds and not by traits often associated with it.  This is known as providing an operational definition.  

Often I get referrals with a description, “Needs anger management”.  When I go in for my initial visit I spend some time defining what exactly is meant by ‘anger management’.  I am more interested in what the learner is doing - their actions or the words they are saying.  Words like “He gets angry” and “It upsets him” get used frequently but these are hard to see.  What I do when I am upset might look quite different from what you or others might do.  Therefore, my operational definition will be different from that of someone else.  

I cannot change the feeling of upset but I can have an impact on what someone does as part of their being upset. Therefore, the team must describe what is currently happening using verbs.

He pushes people.

She throws her books.

[Name] will hit their head and pull their hair out.

All of these actions I can see.  All of these actions can be counted.  All of the actions can be looked for and notes made about what else is happening in time.  This allows us to move from aspect (e.g., "He gets angry") to function (i.e., for what purpose the behaviour serves; "When told "no" he is likely to push the adult out of the way. This is often followed by him accessing the item he was told ‘no’ to.").  With these specifics and details we are better able to match an intervention or teaching plan; one that is based on the function not aspect.  

This is behaviour analysis.  No anger management manual required.

Behaviourist At Play in the airport about to leave on my honeymoon.  Hope my husband doesn’t mind me bringing my other boyfriend along with. 

I will be gone for a couple weeks and I have a bunch of asks and mentions in my mailbox that I need to catch up with.   Jetlag insomnia may inspire some posts so stay tuned!

Behaviourist At Play in the airport about to leave on my honeymoon. Hope my husband doesn’t mind me bringing my other boyfriend along with.

I will be gone for a couple weeks and I have a bunch of asks and mentions in my mailbox that I need to catch up with. Jetlag insomnia may inspire some posts so stay tuned!