In “Operants, Issue III, 2018”, there is an article “How Should We Determine Appropriate Units of Analysis in a Science of Behavior?” in which David C. Palmer is interviewed by David Roth. It is stated that “The purpose of this interview is to discuss the main points in a fundamental paper Skinner wrote in 1935, titled The Generic Nature of the Concepts of Stimulus and Response.” I will comment on his interview, as some of the things that Palmer speaks about help me to make clear the distinction between Sound Verbal Behavior (SVB) and Noxious Verbal Behavior (NVB).
The reader needs to know these two universal patterns of speech are easily observable if the observer listens to how speakers sound while they speak. Surely, everyone is able to hear and acknowledge that SVB speakers sound different than NVB speakers, but as behaviorists haven’t analyzed patterns of speech based on how the speaker sounds, they have over-looked or, it is more precise to write or say, over-listened, these two mutually exclusive ways of talking.
It is important to recognize that the SVB/NVB distinction is a listener’s perspective of the speaker’s speech, while Skinner takes a speaker’s perspective of Verbal Behavior (1957). While Skinner mentions the speaker-as-own-listener, his view obfuscates the listener-as-own-speaker. This is NOT a game of words I am playing, as the listener who hears the speaker’s sound is, as a speaker, affected by that speaker’s tone of voice. Stated differently, the speaker either invites the listener into SVB or forces the listener into NVB.
Palmer laments the fact that the (1935) paper “The Generic Nature of the Concepts of Stimulus and Response” (1935) is hardly ever read by any students today. According to Palmer, the paper is important as it “sets out a procedure by which appropriate units of stimulus and response in behavior analysis can be identified.” However, he doesn’t recognize that this essential procedure, which pertains to inductive reasoning, isn’t used due to our involvement in NVB. When Palmer writes “Most people are unaware that there even is a problem, because they use dependent and independent variables that have already been “validated” by others before them”, he doesn’t realize he is referring to bias that is maintained by our common way of talking. The NVB speaker doesn’t listen to him or herself while he or she speaks as he or she only cares about whether the others are listening to him or her. NVB speakers dominate listeners with a negative contingency.
Forceful, insensitive, superior and powerful NVB speakers always determine, during any given conversation, who may speak (and for how long and about what) and who MUST remain silent and listen (and be inferior, respectful, polite, obedient and follow orders). Skinner, who, in my opinion, unknowingly, is trying to address the necessity of SVB, argues that “units of analysis should not be defined in advance. Rather, they should be determined by looking for orderly relations between behavior and its independent variables. We should adopt those definitions that yield maximal orderliness in our data.” Once we learn about the SVB/NVB distinction, we are amazed by the “orderliness in our data.”
Once we acknowledge the sound of the speaker’s voice as an independent variable, we become aware what determines our speaking behavior, the dependent variable. The French have a famous saying: C'est le ton qui fait la musique, which means: it’s the tone that makes the music or it’s not what you say but how you say it. This saying describes the “orderly relations between behavior and its independent variables”, but it must be stated very EMPHATICALLY, it is a total waste of time to keep “LOOKING” instead of LISTENING for “orderly relations between behavior and its independent variables.”
It should be noted that Skinner came to define the “unit of behavior” for a rat as “any behavior that pressed the lever with sufficient force to operate the switch.” Anyone who can read this, can understand that Skinner OBSERVED and counted the rat’s lever presses. We humans also OBSERVE by LISTENING, that is, LISTENING is the quintessential way to OBSERVE, especially during our spoken communication. In other words, in the process of defining his “unit of behavior”, Skinner appears to be biased toward VISUAL stimuli. I suggest that the “unit of behavior” to be counted is whether any given speaker produces an instance of SVB or NVB.