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Tact is a term that B.F. Skinner used to describe a verbal operant in which a response of given form is evoked (or at least strengthened) by a particular object or event or property of an object or event (1957). The tact is verbal contact with the physical world.
Chapter Five of Verbal Behavior discusses the tact in depth. A tact is said to "make contact with" the world, and refers to behavior that is under the control of generalized reinforcement. The controlling stimuli is nonverbal, "the whole of the physical environment". It can undergo many extensions: generic, metaphoric, metonymical, solecistic, nomination, and 'guessing'. It can also be involved in abstraction. Lowe, Horne, Harris & Randle (2002) would be one example of recent work in tacts.
The tact is said to be capable of generic extension. We might call something a car, then seeing something like the old object called a car, we call this new stimulus a car.
It can be extended metaphorically, as when we describe something as "exploding with taste" by drawing the common property of an explosion with the response to our having eaten something (perhaps a strong response, or a sudden one).
It can undergo metonymical extension when things that are paired together frequently are then used to stand for each other; as "The White House released a statement" when The President and The White House are paired together frequently so as to be "interchangeable".
When controlling variables unrelated to standard or immediate reinforcement take over control of the tact, it is said to be solecistically extended. Malapropisms, solecism and catachresis are said to be examples of this.
A proper name may arise as a result of the tact. Skinner notes things like serial order, or conspicuous features of an object may come to play as nominative tacts. A house that is haunted becomes The Haunted House as a nominative extension to the tact of it being haunted.
A guess may seemingly be the emission of a response in the absence of controlling stimuli. Skinner notes that this may simply be a tact under more subtle or hidden controlling variables. Although this is not always the case in something like guessing the landing side of a coin toss where the possible alternatives are fixed and there is no subtle or hidden stimuli to control responding.
Special conditions affecting stimulus controlEdit
Skinner deals with factors that interfere with, or change, generalized reinforcement. It is these conditions which, in turn, affect verbal behavior which may depend largely or entirely on generalized reinforcement. Factors like deprivation, emotional conditions and personal history may interfere with or change verbal behavior. Skinner mentions alertness, irrelevant emotional variables, 'special circumstances' surrounding particular listeners or speakers and so on (he refers to the conditions which are said to produce objective and subjective responses for example). We would now look at these as motivating operations/Establishing conditions.
Distorted stimulus control may be minor as when a description (tact) is a slight exaggeration. Under stronger conditions of distortion it may appear when the original stimulus is absent, as in the case of the response called a lie. Skinner notes that troubadours and fiction writers are perhaps both motivated by similar forms of tact distortion. Initially they may recount real events but as differential reinforcement affects the account we may see distortion and then total fabrication.
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