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Problem Solving: Skinner’s Theory and Knox’s Test Essay

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Updated: Apr 13th, 2022


For several decades many people relied on myths and traditions in order to understand how language came about and the factors that influenced the speech process. Some people also became more curious to know more about the nature of language and how it came about.

It was out of this curiosity that many scientists took their time and resources to establish how communication takes place. A lot of experiments were conducted by many psychologists to determine the cognitive process that influence “verbal behavior” in human beings. B.F Skinner is one of them.

According to him, verbal behavior is also influenced by other variables and factors which always influence operant behavior. He also indentified the problems affecting verbal behavior as one of the dependent variables.

B.F Skinner’s “Verbal Behavior”

In his bid to find out the strength of a verbal response, B.F Skinner indentified the following variables: “limitation, speed, emission, and overall accuracy”. Apart from these variables “mand” is also another factor that influences how verbal behavior takes place.

The term “mand” as used in verbal behavior analysis can be defined as “a form of verbal behavior that is controlled by deprivation, satiation as well as a controlling history”.

For instance when a person is hungry he or she can look for food. A “mand” can give a description of “its reinforcement however it might not correspond with the reinforcement”.

Verbal stimuli as one of the factors that influence verbal behavior, was also explained by B.F Skinner. Textual behavior is an element of verbal stimuli. A verbal stimulus which is always not heard is believed to control a vocal response.

Skinner was also among the first people who identified the importance of “imitation” in the learning of new a language. He came up with the concept of “echoic”. The term echoic can be defined as “a behavior under the functional control of a verbal stimulus”.

A correspondence known as” point to point” is commonly used by both verbal response and stimulus. For example the speaker may repeat what he or she has said. In the case of echoic behavior, we have an auditory stimulus and a vocal response. Another element of verbal behavior is tact. Tact refers to “the behavior that is controlled by a general reinforcement”.

The audience always acts as a form of reinforcement to the verbal behavior of person. It exhibits reinforcing characteristics and it is always not easy to identify the physical aspects of a given circumstance or environment which may affect the ability of a person to listen.

There is however no reinforcement in the case of a negative audience. In general, B.F Skinner in his explanation of the verbal behavior came up with the following variables: “textual, echoic, mand, tact, and the relationship between the audience and the speaker”.

Even though B.F Skinner tried to give a critical analysis of the theory of verbal behavior, his work was however criticized by some scholars and scientists who felt that he did not give a substantial analysis of the cognitive processes leading to a particular verbal behavior.

For example, Chomsky was one of the people who criticized “verbal behavior” and he defined it as “learned behavior which has its characteristic consequences being delivered through the learned behavior of others; this makes for a view of communicative behaviors much larger than that usually addressed by linguists”.

He also argued that Skinners analysis of verbal behavior was largely based on the functional element of language. For example we can use language when requesting for something.

Howard Knox’s “Non Verbal Test”

In 1912 to 1916, Howard Knox served as surgeon in a New York hospital. It was during this time that he developed the intelligence tests which were used to control the migration of the people who had mental problems and were trying to migrate to the United States of America.

These tests were later used in psychological therapy for patients with mental problems, educational, scientific, and social research. Knox formulated the cube imitation examination in 1913, as away of testing intelligence using nonverbal test.

“Many scientific researches have shown its reliability however performance is governed by both performance and verbal IQ”. “It is also commonly understood by many scientists that the ability of person to perform can be affected by the lesions in the cerebral part of the brain”.

The cube imitation test was an experimental analysis which depended both on verbal representation and visual information. This test proved that in order for a person to quantify the level of intelligence of an individual, he or she should use performance tests as well as verbal tests.

Non verbal tests experiments on the ability of a person to comprehend and give an interpretation of visual information and it also aims at finding out how well a person can find solutions to problems through visual reasoning.

Such tests can help students to find solutions to difficult problems by not necessarily depending on the language skills. Apart from the cube test, Howard Knox also conducted a series of other experimental researches on intelligence.


From the above analysis we find that both Skinner’s theory of verbal behavior and Howard’s nonverbal test can be applied in problem solving. For example the functionality of language as explained by Skinner can help a person to get something that he or she is missing.

For example you can ask for food if you are hungry. “Howard’s nonverbal test has been used by various firms to check the competence of the employees”. The second similarity that these two theories of communication share is the fact that they both use verbal skills in testing the intelligence of a person.

For example Skinner tried to explain the variables influencing how people respond to stimulus which in turn leads to different actions. Howard also looked at the variables affecting performance which is an out come of a cognitive process.

“Both nonverbal skills and verbal skills are used in psychotherapy to examine the response of the patients”. Even though their analyses have some similarities, they however have differences.

Nonverbal tests as explained by Howard depends on both “verbal and performance skills in measuring the level of intelligence in a person”. On the other hand, verbal behavior only relies on verbal skills in measuring the intelligence of a person.


From the above discussion we can conclude that the experiments that were conducted by these two scientists helped people understand the various factors that affect the manner people communicate and respond to stimulus when they get new information or when faced with a given problem.

It is still very important for more research to be done in this area because cases of mental challenges which demand psychological therapy are now increasing.


American Psychological Association. (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. New York: American Educational Research Association.

Gregory, R. (2006). Psychological testing: history, principles, and applications. New York: Allyn and Bacon.

Litchtenberger, E., Mather, N., & Kaufman, A. (2004). Essentials of assessment report writing (essentials of psychological assessment). Chicago: Wiley.

Marnat, G. (2009). Hand Book of Psychological Assessment. Chicago: Wiley.

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