Language Conditioning Clinical Issues and Applications in Behavior Therapy

  • Georg H. Eifert
Part of the Perspectives on Individual Differences book series (PIDF)


Language is undoubtedly one of the most powerful means by which human behavior is controlled, and most schools of psychotherapy—including behavior therapy—rely on some form of language-based interventions as part of their therapeutic methods. Although animals possess rudimentary forms of language (e.g., the chimp’s sign language), it is generally agreed that complex language is one of the key characteristics that distinguishes humans from animals. Razran (1965) pointed out that a system of psychology based wholly on conditioned reflexes, not drawing a basic distinction between animal and human learning, would be highly mechanistic and reductionistic. Pavlov, in his later years, clearly recognized this danger. He viewed speech as a system of second signals—unique to human beings—that are in essence abstractions of reality and means of generalization. Although he regarded words as conditioned stimuli governed by “the fundamental laws of learning,” he also emphasized the differences between words and other stimuli: “Of course a word is for a man as much a real conditioned stimulus as are other stimuli common to men and animals, yet at the same time it is so all-comprehending that it allows no quantitative or qualitative comparisons with conditioned stimuli in animals” (in Razran, 1965, p. 48).


Conditioned Stimulus Behavior Therapy Cognitive Therapy Physiological Arousal Verbal Stimulus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of behavior modification. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (1984). Recycling misconceptions of perceived self-efficacy. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 8, 231–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York: International University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Beck, A. T., & Emery, G., with R. L. Greenberg (1985). Anxiety disorders and phobias — a cognitive perspective. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, R. C., Helm, B., & Tedeschi, J. T. (1973). Attraction and verbal conditioning. Journal of Social Psychology, 91, 81–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brownell, K. D. (1984). The addictive disorders. In C. M. Franks, G. T. Wilson, P. C. Kendall, & K. D. Brownell (Eds.), Annual review of behavior therapy, Vol. 8. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  7. Burgess, I. M., & Linder, M.J. (1970). The effects of a barrier upon verbal conditioning and awareness. Journal of Behavioral Science, 1, 69–75.Google Scholar
  8. Burgess, I. S., Jones, L. M., Robertson, S. A., Radcliffe, W. N., & Emerson, E. (1981). The degree of control exerted by phobic and non-phobic verbal stimuli over the recognition behavior of phobic and non-phobic subjects. Behavior Research and Therapy, 19, 233–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Caulfield, J. B., & Martin, R. B. (1976). Establishment of praise as a reinforcer in chronic schizophrenics. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44, 61–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cautela, J. (1973). Covert processes and behavior modification. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 157, 27–36.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coons, W. H. (1972). Psychotherapy and verbal conditioning in behavior modification. Canadian Psychologist, 13, 3–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coons, W. H., McEachern, D. L., & Annis, H. (1973). Self-acceptance, acceptance of others, and verbal conditioning with mental hospital patients. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 5, 290–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Coyne, J. C. (1982). A critique of cognitions as casual entities with particular reference to depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6, 3–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Craighead, L. W., & Craighead, W. E. (1980). Implications of persuasive communication research for the modification of self-statements. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 4, 117–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Drinkwater, B. A. (1968). Generalization of responses to verbal stimuli. Australian Journal of Psychology, 20, 179–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Drinkwater, B. A. (1972). The significance of affect in verbal learning by subnormal children. Australian Journal of Psychology, 24, 327–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dush, D. M., Hirt, M. L., & Schroeder, H. (1983). Self-statement modification with adults: A metaanalysis. Psychological Bulletin, 94, 408–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eifert, G. H. (1984a). The effects of language conditioning on various aspects of anxiety. Behavior Research and Therapy, 22, 13–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Eifert, G. H. (1984b). Cognitive behaviour therapy: A critical evaluation of its theoretical-empirical bases and therapeutic efficacy. Australian Psychologist, 19, 179–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eifert, G. H. (in press). The acquisition and cognitive-behavioral therapy of phobic anxiety. In I. M. Evans & G. H. Eifert (Eds.), Unifying behavior therapy: Contributions of paradigmatic behaviorism (pp. 169 – 183). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  21. Eifert, G. H., & Lauterbach, W. (in press). Relationships between overt behavior to a fear stimulus and self-verbalizations measured by different assessment strategies. Cognitive Therapy and Research. Google Scholar
  22. Eifert, G. H., & Schermelleh, K. (1985). Language conditioning, emotional instructions, and cognitions in conditioned responses to fear-relevant and fear-irrelevant stimuli. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 16, 101–110.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ellis, A. (1979). A note on the treatment of agoraphobics with cognitive mediation versus proploged exposure in vivo. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 17, 162–164.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ellis, A. (1983). The philosophic implications and dangers of some popular behavior therapy techniques. In M. Rosenbaum, C. M. Franks, & Y. Jaffe (Eds.), Perspectives on behavior therapy in the Eighties. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  25. Eysenck, H.J. (1960). The structure of human personality. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  26. Eysenck, H.J. (1964). Crime and personality. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  27. Eysenck, H.J. (1982). Neobehaviouristic (S-R) theory. In G. T. Wilson & C. M. Franks (Eds.), Contemporary behavior therapy: Conceptual and empirical foundations. (pp. 205–276). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  28. Evans, I. M. & Weiss, A. R. (1978). Process studies in language conditioning II: The role of semantic relevance in conditioning negative emotional responses. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 9, 121–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gupta, B. S. (1973). The effects of stimulant and depressant drugs on verbal conditioning. British Journal of Psychology, 64, 553–557.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hafner, J. L., & Linkenhoker, D. (1974). Quantifying the reinforcement value of verbal items on drug addicts that were inmates of a prison. Journal of the Association for the Study of Perception, 9, 17–25.Google Scholar
  31. Hekmat, H. (1972). The role of imagination in semantic desensitization. Behavior Therapy, 3, 223–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hekmat, H. (1974). Three techniques for reinforcement modification: A comparison. Behavior Therapy, 5, 541–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hekmat, H. (1977). Semantic behavior therapy: Unidimensional or multidimensional. Behavior Therapy, 8, 805–809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hekmat, H., & Lee, Y. B. (1970). Conditioning of affective self-references as a function of semantic meaning of verbal reinforcers. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 76, 427–433.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hekmat, H., & Theiss, M. (1971). Self-actualization and modification of affective self-disclosures during a social conditioning interview. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 18, 101–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hekmat, H., & Vanian, D. (1971). Behavior modification through covert semantic desensitization. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 36, 248–251.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hekmat, H., Deal, R., & Lubitz, R. (1985). Instructional desensitization: A semantic behavior treatment of anxiety disorder. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 22, 273–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Highlen, P. S., & Nicholas, R. P. (1978). Effects of locus of control, instructions, and verbal conditioning on self-referenced affect in a counseling interview. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 25, 177–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Izard, C., Kagan, J., & Zajon C. R. (Eds.). (1984). Emotion, cognition, and behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Javierto, S. (1971). Verbal conditioning, awareness, and intelligence. Philippine Journal of Psychology, 4, 88–96.Google Scholar
  41. Lilliston, L. (1972). Verbal conditioning of value-related material. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 39, 478–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Luria, A. (1961). The role of speech in the regulation of normal and abnormal behaviors. New York: Liveright.Google Scholar
  43. Mahoney, M.J. (1977). Reflections on the cognitive learning trend in psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 32, 5–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mahoney, M.J. (1979). Cognitive and non-cognitive views in behavior modification. In P. D. Sjoden, S. Bates, & W. S. Dockens (Eds.)., Trends in behavior therapy. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  45. Maltzman, I. (1977). Orienting in classical conditioning and generalization of the galvanic skin response to words: An overview. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 106, 111–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Marshall, W. L. (1985). The effects of variable exposure in flooding therapy. Behavior Therapy, 16, 117–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Martin, D. G. (1975). Learning-based client-centered therapy. Monterey: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  48. Martin, M., & Levey, A. B. (1978). Evaluative Conditioning. Advances in Behaviour Research and Therapy, 1, 57–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Martin, I. M., & Levey, A. B. (1985). Conditioning, evaluations and cognitions: An axis for integration. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 23, 267–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Master, S., & Gershman, L. (1983). Physiological responses to rational-emotive self-verbalizations. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 14, 289–296.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Meichenbaum, D. (1969). The effects of instructions and reinforcement on thinking and language behavior of schizophrenics. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 7, 101–114.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Meichenbaum, D. (1977). Cognitive-behaviour modification: An integrative approach. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Meichenbaum, D., & Cameron, R. (1973). Training schizophrenics to talk to themselves: A means of developing attentional controls. Behavior Therapy, 4, 515–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Meichenbaum, D., & Cameron, R. (1982). Cognitive behavior therapy. In G. T. Wilson & C. M. Franks (Eds.), Contemporary behavior therapy: Conceptual and empirical foundations. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  55. Miller, P. M., & Drennen, W. T. (1970). Establishment of social reinforcement as an effective modifier of verbal behavior in chronic psychiatric patients. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 76, 392–395.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mohan, V., & Dharmani, I. (1979). The effect of intelligence and personality on verbal conditioning. Psychologica Belgica, 16, 223–232.Google Scholar
  57. Namenek, A. A., & Schuldt, W.J. (1971). Differential effects of experimenters’ personality and instructional sets on verbal conditioning. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 18, 170–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Nydegger, R. V. (1972). The elimination of hallucinatory and delusional behavior by verbal conditioning and assertive training: A case study. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 3, 225–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Æhman, A. (1979). Fear relevance, autonomic conditioning, and phobias: A laboratory model. In P. D. Sjoden, S. Bates, & W. S. Dockens (Eds.), Trends in behavior therapy. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  60. O’Leary, K. D., & Wilson, G. T. (1980). Principles of behavior therapy. Englewood-Cliffs; NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  61. Pansa, M. (1979). Verbal conditioning of affect responses of process and reactive schizophrenics in a clinical interview situation. Journal of Medical Psychology, 52, 175–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Paivio, A. (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
  63. Rachman, S.J. (1981). The primacy of affect: Some theoretical implications. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 19, 279–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Razran, G. (1939). A quantitative study of meaning by a conditioned salivary technique. Science, 90, 89–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Razran, G. (1965). Russian physiologists’ psychology and American experimental psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 62, 42–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Razran, G. (1971). Mind in evolution. Boston; MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  67. Rhodes, R., Shames, G., & Egolf, D. (1971). Awareness in verbal conditioning of language themes during therapy with stutterers. Journal of Communication Disorders, 4, 30–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rogers, T., & Craighead, W. E. (1977). Physiological responses to self-statements. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 1, 99–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rosenbaum, M. (1983). Learned resourcefulness as a behavioral repertoire for the self-regulation of internal events. In M. Rosenbaum, C. M. Franks, & Y. Jaffe (Eds.), Perspectives on behavior therapy in the eighties. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  70. Ross, A. O. (1985). To form a more perfect union: It is time to stop standing still. Behavior Therapy, 16, 195–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sappington, A. A. (1975). Semantic desensitization: Language conditioning or demand characteristics manipulation? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 41, 747–753.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sappington, A. A., Burleson, R., Studstill, L., Rice, J., Gordon, J., & Cornelison, K. (1982). Reduction of avoidant behavior through the semantic conditioning of a self-related target stimulus. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6, 315–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Staats, A. W. (1963). Complex human behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. (With contributions by C. K. Staats)Google Scholar
  74. Staats, A. W. (1968). Learning, language and cognition. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
  75. Staats, A. W. (1972). Language behavior therapy: A derivative of social behaviorism. Behavior Therapy, 3, 165–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Staats, A. W. (1975). Social behaviorism. London: Irvin-Dorsey Press.Google Scholar
  77. Staats, A. W. (1980). Behavioral interaction and interactional psychology theories of personality: Similarities, differences, and the need for unification. British Journal of Psychology, 71, 205–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Staats, A. W., & Heiby, E. M. (1985). Paradigmatic behaviorism’s theory of depression: Unified, explanatory, and heuristic. In S. Reiss & R. R. Bootzin (Eds.), Theoretical issues in behavior therapy. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  79. Truax, C. B. (1966). Reinforcement and nonreinforcement in Rogerian psychotherapy. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 71, 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Tryon, W. W., & Briones, R. G. (1985). Higher-order semantic counterconditioning of Filipino women’s evaluations of heterosexual behaviors. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 16, 125–131.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Weiss, A. R., & Evans, I. M. (1978). Process studies in language conditioning—I: Counterconditioning of anxiety by “calm” words. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 9, 115–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wilson, G. T., & Evans, I. M. (1977). The therapist-client relationship in behavior therapy. In A. S. Gurman & A. M. Razin (Eds.), The therapist’s contribution to effective psychotherapy. New York: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georg H. Eifert
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral SciencesJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia

Personalised recommendations