Verbal Conditioning Experiment

Verbal Conditioning Experiment is a interesting experiment in psychology.

Statement of the problem – To study Verbal Conditioning.



Definitions of Conditioning

“A simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response.” – Merriam-Webster, 2021

“Relating to or describing behaviour whose occurrence, form of display, or both is a result of experience. The two main classes of experience resulting in conditioned behaviour are operant conditioning and classical conditioning.” – American Psychological Association,

“Conditioning in behavioural psychology is a theory that the reaction (“response”) to an object or event (“stimulus”) by a person or animal can be modified by ‘learning’, or conditioning.” –

Types of conditioning:

Classical conditioning, operant conditioning and observational learning are the three main types of learning. Observational conditioning, a self-explanatory concept is the type of learning where one learns by observing others. Operant conditioning and classical conditioning are associative forms of learning in which learning occurs through associations made between events that occur together.

1.Classical Conditioning:

Classical conditioning is the process by which we learn to associate events, or stimuli, that frequently occur together; as a result, we learn to anticipate events. Ivan Pavlov famously trained (or conditioned) dogs to associate the sound of a bell with the presence of a piece of meat in a renowned study involving dogs. The conditioning is complete when the sound of the bell by itself causes the dog to salivate in anticipation of the meat. Read more 

2. Operant/Instrumental Conditioning:

The learning process by which behaviours are reinforced or punished, thus strengthening or extinguishing a response, is known as operant conditioning. The term “law of effect” was coined by Edward Thorndike, and it states that behaviours that are followed by rewarding consequences to the organism are more likely to be repeated, while behaviours that are followed by unpleasant consequences would be less likely to recur. B. F. Skinner studied instrumental conditioning by conducting experiments on rats in a “Skinner box.”

The rats gradually learned that stepping on the lever directly resulted in the release of food, illustrating that behaviour is shaped by rewards and punishments. He distinguished between positive and negative reinforcement and explored the idea of extinction. Read more 

3.Observational Learning:

Observational learning occurs when a person observes the behaviours of others and imitates those behaviours—even if there is no reinforcement present at the time.

Albert Bandura observed that children frequently learn by imitating adults, and he put his theory to the test with his famous Bobo-doll experiment. Bandura discovered that children would attack the Bobo doll after seeing adults hit the doll in this experiment.

Bandura analyzed the nature of observational learning and found it governed by four related processes:

  • Attentional processes,
  • Retention processes,
  • Production processes,
  •  Motivational (Incentive ) processes.

Read more 

Verbal Conditioning Definitions:

“The conditioning of a verbal response (such as the use of a specific word) through reinforcement, usually given in the form of attention or praise.

For instance, the experimenter might respond “Okay” whenever the participant uses the pronoun I but does not respond to the use of other pronouns. [introduced in 1955 by U.S. behaviourist Joel Greenspoon (1920–2004)]” – American Psychological Association

“Verbal conditioning refers to the modification of verbal behavior through the use of reinforcement or punishment, following the principles of operant conditioning.” Skinner (1957)

According to Bandura (1969) “Verbal conditioning involves the shaping and reinforcement of verbal responses to encourage the acquisition or modification of specific language behaviors.”

Rotter, J.B. (1954). definrf “Verbal conditioning as the process by which verbal behaviors are systematically shaped and maintained through the selective application of consequences, such as rewards or punishments.”

Original Verbal Conditioning Experiment

1.Greenspoon Verbal Conditioning  Experiment (1955)

The goal of this experiment was to see how two different operations affected two different verbal responses. The Ss were 75 Indiana University undergraduate students. Each S was served separately. Further analyses excluded data from ten Ss who verbalised the relationship between the contingent stimulus and the response it elicited.

The operation was to present one of two stimuli, ‘mmm-hmm’ or ‘huh-uh,’ after one of two responses, plural nouns or any word that was not a plural noun. Following the response, no stimulus was introduced in the control group. For 50 minutes, the S was instructed to say aloud all the words he could think of, excluding sentences, phrases, and numbers. In the first 25 minutes, one of the contingent stimuli was introduced immediately after finishing each response of a predefined class, and it was excluded during the last 25 minutes.

According to the findings, ‘mmm-hmm’ increased the frequency of plural responses while ‘huh-uh’ decreased the frequency of plural responses. Both stimuli had an effect on the frequency of non-plural responses. As a result, the contingent stimulus ‘mmm-hmm’ had the same effect on both responses. The ‘huh-uh’ stimulus had varying effects on the two responses. This differential effect on the two responses suggested that the nature of the response is a determinant of the stimulus’s reinforcing nature.

2.Taffel Verbal Conditioning Experiment  (1955)

Ninety hospitalised psychiatric patients were given the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale in one session and then participated in an experiment involving 80 trials. Each trial began with the presentation of a stimulus card, to which 5 participants responded with a sentence. The sentence consisted of a verb and one of six pronouns arranged on a three-by-five index card (stimulus card).

During the first 20 trials, the experimenter did not respond to any of the subjects. For Trials 21–80 in Group I, the experimenter said “good” at the end of any sentence that began with I or WE (pronouns of self-reference). The experimenter flashed a small light at the end of any sentence that began with I or WE in Group II. The experimenter flashed a small light at the end of any sentence that began with I or WE in Group II. In Group III, the procedure used in the first 20 trials was carried out throughout all trials.

The data were analysed in terms of experimental parameters and the range of Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale scores. The following are the findings:

  1. Operant conditioning can be used to condition verbal responses.
  2. In a verbal situation, “good” is an effective reinforcer.
  3. Light, as used in this study, does not serve as a reinforcer in a verbal situation.
  4. The Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale scores were related to the amount of conditioning.
  5. None of the 90 subjects could articulate the study’s purpose or the relationship between their responses and the experimenter’s behaviour.

3.Spielberger Verbal Conditioning Experiment  (1966)

This study sought to examine the effects of word position and stress-nonstress experimental conditions on serial-verbal learning in subjects with varying levels of anxiety (drive) as measured by the Manifest Anxiety scale.

Assuming that highly anxious subjects react to threatening situations with greater drive than less anxious subjects, it was expected that differences in performance between highly anxious and less anxious subjects would be found only in the stress condition. Furthermore, based on drive theory, highly anxious subjects were expected to perform worse than less anxious subjects in the early stages of learning, but relatively better later in learning.

Taking into account serial-position phenomena, it was also anticipated that the facilitative impact of high drive might occur earlier in learning for words at the extreme ends of a serial list than for words in the middle.

The subjects of this experiment consisted of 44 undergraduate males whose anxiety had been tested using the Taylor Manifest Scale. The subjects included had scored on the 2 extreme ends of this scale, categorising them with those being less anxious having a low drive and those with high anxiety have a higher drive.

The experiment consisted of a practice list and a test list that consisted of words typed in capital letters, presented serially, one by one. In the neutral condition, the subjects were given standard instructions of learning the words presented to them and reproduce them later. For this condition, they were given 6 practice trials. The subject did the task then till they either achieved 2 perfect, errorless trials or they went through 25 trials.

In the stress condition, an ‘ego stress’ was produced. They were given a simple concept attainment task and were told that this task was related to intelligence and the next task was related to another kind of thinking, with a graph being shown where the number of correct answers rapidly increased with their correlation being to ‘IQ’. The task was to learn a list of nonsense syllables and as mentioned, they were told that this learning and how well it was done was related to the intelligent quotient of the person involved. The rest remained the same as it was for the neutral condition subjects.

Hypothesis Verbal Conditioning Experiment:

Instructions leading to more awareness results in better verbal conditioning as compared to instructions leading to no awareness.

Variables Verbal Conditioning Experiment

  • Independent variable – Type of instructions
  • Dependent variable – Verbal conditioning
  • Controlled variable – size and font of cards, verbs used, pronouns used.
  • Extraneous variable – age, gender, noise, environmental conditions.

Materials Required:

  • Hundred cards with verbs written in past tense
  • Cards with 6 pronouns
  • Prearranged record sheet
  • Blank pages
  • Stationary
  • Graph


Plan of Verbal Conditioning Experiment:

Part I

Sr. No.VerbsIWeHeSheYouThey


Part II

Sr. No.VerbsIWeHeSheYouThey


  • Subject was called inside the cubicle and rapport is established.
  • Part I – no reinforcement is given (uninformed).
  • Part II – reinforcement is given (informed).
  • The subject was asked to make short sentences using the verb presented, starting with any of the pronouns shown to him/her.


This is a very simple and interesting experiment.

Part I

“I will show you some cards on which there is a verb written in past tense and six pronouns. Example: I, We, He, She, You, They. Your task is to frame short sentences beginning with any of these pronouns and verb given. Write whatever comes to your mind first.”

Part II

“Again, I will show you some cards and again you have to make short sentences. The type of sentence you make is important. Some sentences can be better than others. Try to see which ones are better. Remember to make best sentence that comes to your mind.”


  • Follow the instructions carefully and avoid any side remarks.
  • Equal number of cards should be presented for both the parts.
  • Give fresh paper to the subject whenever required.

Sample Introspective Report :

Certain post task questions were asked to the subject once the conduction had taken place. The subject was asked regarding what she thought the experiment was about, she answered by saying it was an assessment test with her having to form grammatically correct and coherent sentences in as little time as possible while also using the pronouns given. The next question asked was regarding her thoughts during the experiment, she mentioned that during the course of the experiment, she had to think quickly to give the answers while simultaneously imagine the actions of the verb actually happening so as to form the sentence.

The subject also mentioned that the experiment was a great exercise for her cognition. The subject was asked why during the conduction she had asked the experimenter whether she could form short but simple, complete sentences instead of using just the pronouns and the verbs given. To this, the subject answered by saying that it was important for her to form sentences that made sense, that were well articulated instead of sentences which were only the pronoun and the verb. The subject was also asked whether she would call herself extrinsically motivated or intrinsically to which she responded by saying that she believed she was more intrinsically motivated.

Sample Discussion:

The purpose of the experiment was to check whether verbal conditioning would occur if precise and clear instructions were given to the subject instead of unclear instructions. The Independent Variable (IV) of this experiment was the type of conditioning given to the subject i.e., whether the subject was given verbal cues or not based on the pronoun they had chosen. The Dependent Variable (DV) of this experiment was verbal conditioning i.e., whether the subject got conditioned by the verbal cues given by the experimenter and started to use the pronoun they were positively reinforced for more than the other pronouns.

The results for this experiment were as follows: In the first part, ‘I’ was used a total of 7 times, ‘We’ was used 13 times, ‘He’ used 8 times, ‘She’ used 11 times, ‘You’ was used 3 times, ‘They’ was used 8 times. In the second part of the experiment, ‘I’ was used a total of 10 times, ‘We’ was used 10 times, ‘He’ used 8 times, ‘She’ used 5 times, ‘You’ was used 6 times, ‘They’ was used 11 times.

The pronoun chosen by the experimenter was ‘she’. According to the results found, the pronoun ‘she’ was used by the subject in the first condition where there was no reinforcement given 11 times. Whereas, in the second condition, where reinforcement was given with each use of the pronoun ‘she’, it was used a total of 5 times.

Similar to Spielberger’s experiment, it was observed that the subject used the verbs ‘I’ and ‘We’ the most. On the contrary to Taffel’s experiment, the subject did not show verbal reinforcement with the word ‘Good’.

It was observed that during the conduction, the subject even though asked to form smaller sentences multiple times, she formed simple, complete sentences. She also mentioned during the conduction whether it would be okay for her to form such sentences instead of using only the pronoun and the verb given. By this, it can be stated that instead of focusing on the reinforcement given during the second condition, the subject was focusing more on forming coherent sentences. It was also observed by the experimenter that the subject was using pronouns based on the situations that came to her mind instead of using the pronouns randomly. Meaning that whatever actions the verbs were invoking, the subject was using the pronouns based on that. Another observation made by the experimenter was that the subject was not extrinsically motivated much, confirmed by the subject too when asked.


The hypothesis stating that “Instructions leading to more awareness results in better verbal conditioning as compared to instructions leading to no awareness.”, was accepted or rejected

Applications of Verbal Conditioning Experiment

  1. Verbal Conditioning used most during training a dog – to teach him commands like sit, down, fetch.
  2. If a student makes a presentation in class and is either criticised/praised by the professor and classmates for it, it will act like a Verbal Conditioning.
  3. When cooking a dish, someone complimenting on the aroma or taste of the dish, it acts as Verbal Conditioning.
  4. Being reprimanded or scolded by an elder after doing a certain action, works as Verbal Conditioning.


  • Data sheet 


Total7 13 81138







TOTAL 10 10 8 56 11







Part IPart IIDifference

Graph: Y-axis: No of responses, X-axis:



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *