Talk the Talk: Echoics

Talk the Talk: Echoics

Welcome back with another Talk the Talk post for our series on verbal operants, the basic components of verbal behavior.  We have previously discussed mands, tacts, and intraverbals so if you missed those posts, you can brush up here! Today we will be diving into echoics. 

An echoic is defined as verbal behavior that shares point-to-point correspondence with the vocal-verbal stimulus that evokes it (Skinner, 1957). Remember, point-to-point correspondence means the beginning, middle, and end of a response matches the stimulus presented before it.  

To put it simply, an echoic is a form of verbal behavior wherein the speaker repeats the exact same word or sound that was said by another person. The name really gives this one away: it is an echo! 

This sounds easy enough, so let’s look at some real-life examples: 

A young boy follows his older brother around and the older brother says, “leave me alone” (verbal stimulus).  The younger brother says, “leave me alone” in response (echoic). The older brother shouts “stop copying me!” (verbal stimulus) and again, the younger brother echoes, “stop copying me!” The young boy’s echoic response could be reinforced by increased attention from the big brother and therefore would be more likely to occur in the future. 

Ok, now for another example: 

A new friend is giving you their phone number and says, “867-5309” (verbal stimulus) and you repeat “867-5309” (echoic) back to them. They reply, “Yes, that is right!” and you save the contact into your phone and are able to text them later.

How about one more? 

A teacher is singing a song to the students in her classroom to help them remember the sounds of the alphabet.  She sings, “A is for apple, aa, aa, aa” (verbal stimulus) and points to the students. The students then repeat, “aa, aa, aa” (echoic) and the teacher smiles and says “great job, A says aa!” The students earn a check on the board for great work.   

From the time we are born, we absorb information and gain skills by imitating others in our environment. When we vocally imitate sounds, words, or phrases others say, it is an echoic. Imitation is such a powerful learning tool, no matter what skills are being taught!  Observe your environment today and look for examples of echoics all around you. We bet you will be surprised how often they occur! 

Until next time,   

The Reinforcers 
Breanna Jump, M.A., BCBA 
Lauren Chase, M.S., BCBA 


Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.