Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Defining the Verbal Specialist: An Adaptive-Evolutionary View of Deception and Counter-Control

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Defining the Verbal Specialist: An Adaptive-Evolutionary View of Deception and Counter-Control

Article excerpt

Behavior analysis and evolutionary theory share much common intellectual ground. Together they may extend our accounts of language. Baum (1995) represents an excellent beginning for merging behavior analysis with evolutionary theory in this area. However, Baum's analysis of verbal interaction considers the functional value of deception and noncompliance only briefly. This paper attempts a broad over view of how used as basis for extending the evolutionary analysis of verbal interaction to perhaps less savory aspect. We operants such as deception and noncompliance may function in the same ecosystem to counter each other. Examples of functional deception in nonhuman animals, functional rule-breaking, and noncompliance in humans are can see humans as verbal specialists occupying a social niche, manipulating the behavior of the listener to the speaker's benefit through verbal behavior.

KEYWORDS: deception, verbal behavior, integrated operant and evolutionary accounts.


"... and therefore, since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasure of these days. Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams, to set my brother Clarence and the King In deadly hate, the one against the other"

--Richard in Shakespeare's Richard III

Evolutionary biology has much to gain and offer to the experimental analysis of behavior, especially concerning verbal behavior. While making many strides into the evolution of verbal behavior and language, treatments of verbal behavior in evolutionary biology fails to move past accounts of single utterances and displays (see Kuczaij & Kirkpatrick, 1993 for a review). On the other hand, Skinner (1987) developed an analysis of verbal behavior building from simple vocal utterances to use of facts and sentences. However, problems remain with Skinner's verbal classification system with respect to the listener (Hayes & Hayes, 1989). Recently, the analysis of verbal behavior has progressed (1) placing the behavior of the listener within an evolutionary framework (e.g., Baum, 1995) and (2) studying the effect of rules and other forms of verbal behavior on the listeners behavior in the literature described as rule-goverance. Still work is needed analyzing stimulus classes leading to increase probability deception will occur.

Accordingly, we elaborate Baum's evolutionary analysis of verbal behavior by considering evidence for the adaptive role of deception and noncompliance. Deception and noncompliance are operant behaviors that become biased patterns of responding due to exposure to unequal reinforcement parameters (Baum, 1974). When left in the stable context of their emergence, such responses contribute to fitness, survival possibilities and reproductive success of the individual. Issues in the Evolution of verbal behavior

Traditionally, behavior analysts study generalist (1) species such as pigeons (e.g., Columba livia domestica) to produce general laws of behavior. Hayes (1987) has urged for discarding this strategy in studying human communication. In Hayes's view, Homo sapiens are not generalists in verbal behavior but specialists, exploiting a well-defined niche. However, unlike other niches, a special climate or food type does not define this niche. What does is the most consistent environmental factor for humans, namely the presence of other humans (Skinner, 1981). Thus, we can say that humans occupy a social niche. Although the social niche is structurally dissimilar from physically delineated niches, the social environment seems to affect behavior in similar ways as the physical environment. Finally, it is not clear that being a verbal specialist requires dropping a generalist research strategy in an evolutionary or behavior analytic study of verbal behavior.

Exploiting the social niche.

Several independent features evolved to help humans in exploiting of the social niche. …

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