February 21, 2015
Written by Maximus Peperkamp, M.S. Behavioral Engineer
This writer borrows some behaviorological explanations to illustrate the distinction between Sound Verbal Behavior (SVB) and Noxious Verbal Behavior (NVB) as two subsets of verbal behavior. These two subsets are much-needed extensions of Skinner’s work on verbal behavior. This extension is valuable, because it is a listener’s perspective of the difference between aversive and reinforcing spoken communication. Only a speaker who reinforces the listener is valuable to the listener. It is important to know that when this is not the case, so that such an aversive, coercive, abusive, dominating speaker can be identified and avoided.
“Ethics” denotes “the behavior of respecting rights claims for unfettered access to valued reinforcers” (Ledoux, 2014, p. 426). When Ledoux writes about such “rights claims” it seems as if he talks about these with others, who, supposedly are also willing and capable of talking about it, but, the reality is that most people aren’t willing to read about it, let alone talk about it. It should be clear to behaviorologists that most people are incapable of talking about it and they should explain why this is the case.
Before listeners can have “unfettered access to valued reinforcers” speakers need to first talk with them and reinforce them. However, this is not going to happen unless speakers are able to recognize the distinction between SVB and NVB. Only when speakers can demonstrate to listeners how they sound, can they teach this distinction to them. SVB refers to the verbal episodes in which the speaker controls the behavior of the listener with positive reinforcement. NVB, on the contrary, refers to all the verbal episodes in which the speaker controls the behavior of the listener with an aversive contingency. Listeners are used to the latter, but what does “unfettered access to reinforcement” sound like?
As long as speakers keep busy with “values”, that is, with what they say, they may be talking about reinforcement, but that is not the same as being reinforcing. Likewise, speakers can talk about “rights” until the listener is blue and discuss what supposedly gives the listener “access to reinforcers”, but such talk is not the same as being reinforcing to the listener. And, even if speakers study, write, read, think and talk about “ethics”, unless their talking directly provides this “unfettered access to valued reinforcers”, it is based on the make-believe reinforcement, which never comes. Only reinforcing talk is SVB, but talk which is not reinforcing is NVB. Those who talk, the speakers, must be reinforcing the listener to have SVB. There is an immense difference between conversations in which speakers talk in a demanding, passionate manner about values, rights, ethics and morals, in order to let the listener gain access to reinforcers later and conversations in which the speaker reinforces the listener immediately. In the later, in SVB, the speaker controls the behavior of the listener, because he or she is capable of this, with positive reinforcement.
In the former, the speaker necessarily controls the behavior of the listener with an aversive contingency, because he or she hasn’t learned the repertoire that is needed to be able to control the listener by means of positive reinforcement. In other words, a speaker’s NVB has nothing to do with the presumed absence of values, rights, ethics or morals, but with the speaker's lack of repertoire which mainly makes NVB possible. The “ethical behavior” of a speaker, which shows respect for the “rights claims” of the listeners can only be SVB. The NVB of a disrespectful speaker always signifies the speaker’s inability to reinforce the listener.