Appendix 2: A Brief Review of Some Conceptual Issues Related to the Mand

In B.F. Skinner’s 1957 book, Verbal Behavior, Chapter 3 is entitled, The Mand. In that chapter, Skinner carefully describes the verbal relations involved in mand responses.

Many common words may be descriptive of the mand relation. Some of the words are used to describe grammatical or linguistic structures. The following list includes words related to the mand function. The list is taken from Skinner’s 1957 book:

  • Imperative mood
  • Commands
  • Requests
  • Entreaties
  • Demands
  • Prayers
  • Questions
  • Threats
  • Warnings
  • Advice
  • Permission
  • Calls to attention
  • Offers
  • Bargaining
  • Interjections
  • Vocatives

The role of the listener in the mand relation

When considering the mand, we must consider the behavior of the listener. Why would the listener be predisposed to providing the reinforcement specified in the mand? Skinner notes that the history of the listener is important: the listener must have a history of being reinforced for responding to mands. This implies that we must teach those responsible for mand training to provide adequate reinforcement when target mand forms occur. Although one would think that reinforcing a child when they ask for something would occur naturally, this is not always the case. Instructors will need to be sure to attend to student behavior, decide on what form of mand will be accepted for reinforcement, and for some, learn how to not provide reinforcement for inappropriate mands.

Hidden and Subtle Mands

“The mand relation is clearest when it is in exclusive control of a response but may be effective in combination with other kinds of variables.” Saying “I smell a cookie” may sound primarily like a tact (describing the sensation of the aroma) but may serve to increase the tendency of the listener to offer a cookie in the condition when the speaker is hungry. Of course some non-vocal behaviors may also guide the listener’s response to this “hidden mand” (for example, an expectant look while making the statement.) The important concept here is that what constitutes a mand is not the form of the behavior, but rather its functional effect on the environment.

Mand Strength

The mand is not static behavior. Qualities of the mand behavior will vary dynamically depending on circumstances prevailing both within the speaker and in the listener. The energy level at which the mand is emitted may vary from very faint to very loud or from very slow to very fast. If not immediately reinforced, mands may be repeated. The quality of a mand will be affected by the listener’s behavior; often speakers will alter the quality of a mand based on behaviors of the listener antecedent to the mand. A mand will be softened if the listener is scowling or otherwise appearing predisposed to a non-reinforcing response. The strength at which a mand is emitted can tell the person concerned with training appropriate mands much about the motivation of the student. A louder mand may suggest stronger motivation. Likewise, a quiet mand may suggest the student has responded to the instructor as if the reinforcer may not be readily available or otherwise indicate that the student’s motivation is not strong.

Stimulus Control

Pure mands occur when the student wants something and asks for it. Whether the child asks or not is not dependent on any particular event such as the item being present or an adult providing a reminder to ask. When discussing mands, the stimulating conditions which prevail when the mand is emitted and reinforced do not enter into the definition of the mand. In other words, a mand is defined by motivative variables, not by stimulus control relations. With that said, the concept of stimulus control is important in relation to mand behavior. Keep in mind that although Skinner allocated a significant portion of his book to describing “pure verbal operants” (those under control of only one antecedent variable), he also stressed that most naturally occurring verbal behavior is controlled by a variety of environmental variables. In other words almost all naturally occurring verbal behavior is under the control of multiple variables within the environment. In the process of training mands, it will be necessary to establish a wide variety of events that serve to evoke the mand. For instance, early in training, the instructor may need to cue the student to the availability of reinforcement by having the reinforcer present. The instructor may actually have to tell the student to mand by issuing the mand “what do you want?” Likewise an echoic prompt may partially control the student’s mand response. Such supports allow the student to develop mand behavior, but do not insure that the child is able to emit a pure mand: the student may not be able to ask for things when they are not present and no one suggests they should ask. Teaching the child to ask under a wide variety of stimulus conditions is important: the child needs to be able to ask for things when they are present and when they are not present.

Although training pure mands involves the elimination of stimulus control, instructors responsible for teaching mands must have a thorough understanding of the concepts and principles related to stimulus control. Prompts are supplemental stimuli that increase the likelihood that a particular response will be emitted. During instruction prompts are arranged by the instructor. The instructor deliberately plans to fade prompts so that the target behavior will occur without the additional help. In the process of teaching mands, prompts must be used. Prompts for mands always involve adding a component of stimulus control. One then cannot teach mands without the careful application of stimulus control procedures.

Use of stimulus control procedures to teach mands is not limited to teaching mands for items. In order to prompt a mand for attention, for instance, echoic prompts may be used.

Mands Benefit the Speaker

Skinner has stressed that unlike other verbal operant behavior, the mand operates primarily for the benefit of the speaker (p.41 VB 1957). It is only under conditions of deprivation or aversive stimulation that mands will occur. The environmental changes which occur as the result of effective manding serve to improve conditions for the speaker. The child who is chilly and asks to go indoors benefits by being warmed. The student who does not know what to do on an assignment (hopefully, a mildly aversive condition) gains information through asking for clarification that may make the student more confident and thus less anxious. While other functions of verbal behavior do result in reinforcement for the speaker, the reinforcement is non-specific and the specific benefits are for the listener. For instance, when a person emits a tact, let’s say, “it’s a ball” the result of doing so will allow the listener to orient toward the ball and respond appropriately. Likewise when an intraverbal is emitted, the benefit is primarily to the listener (when asked, “Did you play with a ball?”, the speaker might respond, “yes” thus providing information that is of benefit to the listener, in this case the person who initially asked the question.)

The Extended Mand

Although the mand is initially acquired through the mediation of a listener (and the verbal community as a whole), the conditions under which mands are later emitted may not involve reinforcement delivered by a listener. Skinner notes that the mand “stop” serves to inhibit the behavior of a variety of listeners. Due to these generally effective results, the speaker may acquire a tendency to use “stop” under conditions wherein the cessation of movement would have value. Saying “stop” as a shopping cart rolls away on the parking lot is unlikely to be effective. Although the specific instance of behavior is unlikely to be reinforced, the response may be strong because of its past history of effectiveness (other things have stopped when “stop” was said.) Certain mands are shaped up through accidental reinforcement, such as the shouting at a TV set “go” during a sporting event. The shouting of “go” cannot effect the behavior of the athlete; however, on some intermittent basis the athlete is likely to “go” and thus reinforce the response. The tendency to emit mands to the TV set will thus be maintained through the intermittent delivery of serendipitous but quite accidental reinforcement. Mands shaped through accidental reinforcement are referred to as superstitious mands. There are other mands that have never had any effect as consequences and yet occur at some strength. These mands are often similar by analogy to established mands. An example of these “magical mands” might include a speaker saying “darn it” after an accident. Although the statement is unlikely to cause the accident to be removed to some other place, the act of such asking is comparable to some types of effective mands in other situations, for example, telling someone to go away.