Tact is a term that B.F. Skinner used to describe a verbal operant in which a certain response is evoked (or at least strengthened) by a particular object or event or property of an object or event. More generally, the tact is verbal contact with the physical world.
Chapter Five of Skinner's 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 antecedent stimulus is nonverbal, and constitutes some portion of "the whole of the physical environment".
Less technically, a tact is like a label for something, though the concept of a tact is far more complicated. Some portion of the environment is present, for example a tree, a person makes a particular response pattern (in this case he or she will say "Tree") and a listener will provide some non-specific reinforcer (the listener might say "Correct!").
The tact can be extended, as in generic, metaphorical, metonymical, solecistic, nomination, and 'guessing' tact. 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. For example, something might be called a car; then something like the old object called a car is also called a car.
Tact 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).
Tact 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 examples of this.
Skinner notes things like serial order, or conspicuous features of an object, may come to play as nominative tacts. A proper name may arise as a result of the tact. For example, a house that is haunted becomes "The Haunted House" as a nominative extension to the tact of its 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 control
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. In children with developmental disabilities, tacts may need intensive training procedures to develop. Factors such as 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.
- Skinner, B.F. (1957). Verbal Behavior. Appleton Century Croft.
- Pereira-Delgado, J.A. & Oblak, M. (2007). The Effects of Daily Intensive Tact Instruction on the Emission of Pure Mands and Tacts in Non-Instructional Settings by Three Preschool Children with Developmental Delays. Journal of early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention, 4(2), 392-411 
- Tsiouri,I. & Greer, R.D. (2007). The Role of Different Social Reinforcement Contingencies in Inducing Echoic Tacts Through Motor Imitation Responding in Children with Severe Language Delays. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention, 4(4), 229-248. 
- Schauffler, G and Greer, R.D. (2006): The Effects of Intensive Tact Instruction on Audience-Accurate Tacts and Conversational Units. JEIBI 3 (1), 121-127 
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