Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. R. Wayne Fuqua

Second Advisor

Dr. Amy Naugle

Third Advisor

Dr. Cynthia Pietras

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Raymond Miltenberger


Older adults make up a large and increasing portion of the population (U.S. apply those assessments to the evaluation of verbal behavior in older adults with and without dementia. The research addressed two questions. First, in what way do verbal behavior problems differ between older adults with and without dementia? Second, does language deteriorate in a pattern compatible with Skinner's analysis of functionally independent verbal operants? Thirty-one participants were categorized into Control (n=15) and Dementia (n=16) Groups based on their score on the Dementia Rating Scale-2. Verbal behavior assessments were administered to participants on two occasions, separated by one week. Results revealed individuals with dementia performed significantly more poorly on the Tact Assessment than those without dementia; however, no significant differences were found on the other assessments. These findings suggest tacts are sensitive to language decline associated with dementia. Results also indicated participants from both groups performed better on measures of tacts than on measures of intraverbals or mands, even though topographically identical verbal responses were required across these assessments. Differential performance across these assessments provides support for Skinner's conceptualization of functionally independent verbal operants. Census Bureau, 2008). Approximately 5% of older adults have a dementia diagnosis, and language deterioration is a common symptom associated with this disorder (Kempler, 2005). In order to assess and treat language deficits in older adults, accurate and sensitive measures of verbal skills are needed. Language has traditionally been considered an existing entity that resides inside individuals, but the entity of language is unobservable and difficult to study or manipulate. Skinner (1957/1992) proposed that language was simply operant behavior. He classified a number of verbal operants based on their function, describing the antecedents and consequences that control various forms of verbal behavior. A conceptualization based on the function of verbal behavior allows for altering the occurrence of verbal responses by manipulating the controlling conditions. To the author's knowledge, there are no empirical studies evaluating verbal behavior in older adults using Skinner's analysis of functionally independent verbal operants. The purpose of this study was to develop assessments using Skinner's functional verbal operants and

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access