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Acta Comportamentalia

Print version ISSN 0188-8145


SELLA, Ana Carolina  and  BANDINI, Carmen Silvia Motta. Acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of verbal sequences: Some counterpoints between Behavior Analysis and cognitive approaches. Acta comport. [online]. 2012, vol.20, n.2, pp. 157-176. ISSN 0188-8145.

Our research group has been conducting studies that examine the comprehension of various aspects of verbal behavior such as verbal gerativity, storytelling behaviors, and the transfer of ordinal functions through equivalence classes. Throughout these studies, one feature of verbal behavior presented itself as a common and essential issue: verbal behavior sequencing/ordering. The search for explanations and ways to interpret this led to the realization that most studies dedicated to this matter come from the cognitive literature; while in Behavior Analysis, this issue is presented in a fragmented way and under different perspectives. In light of this, the purpose of this paper was to present a review of behavior analytic explanations of the acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of sequencing verbal behavior repertoires while identifying how this analysis can provide alternative explanations to the findings from cognitive studies, especially the ones dedicated to storytelling behaviors. The analysis showed that the body of literature produced by cognitive approaches is, in many aspects, in opposition to the one produced by Behavior Analysis. While the cognitive approach bases its explanations in "grammars" that indicate the cognitive syntactical structures that define both the sequence and what can and cannot be accepted in a language; the behavior analytic approach emphasizes experience, investigating relations between the organism and the environment, and more specifically to verbal behaviors: between the listener and the speaker. This paper systematized what has been published by behavior analysts, offering a general overview of the literature in the area. When presenting Skinner's explanation of sequencing verbal behavior, we indicate that this explanation is based on speakers' repertoires, on the search for variables that control the verbal operants, and on the reinforcing practices of the verbal community. Stemmer's explanation is focused on verbal behaviors that the child emits as a listener; he outlined the developmental history of the child's repertoire from listener to speaker. To describe the studies that used imitation, we discuss early studies that provided evidence of the importance of learning experiences in the development of language. To describe studies referring to stimulus equivalence, we present two approaches for the study of verbal behavior sequencing. In addition to the literature review of behavior analytic studies, we examine some conceptual differences between Behavior Analysis and cognitive approaches and provide explanations about these differences.

Keywords : behavior; Skinner; Stemmer; stimulus equivalence; grammar; sequencing behaviors; imitation; Behavior Analysis; cognitive approaches.

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