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A Systematic Glossary-Thesaurus of Behavioral Terms

William S. Verplanck, Ph.D.


This work in progress is a glossary/thesaurus of basic terms in behavioral psychology (hereafter referred to as the G/T). The topics covered give the reader orderly access to the basic concepts of behavioral psychology, its methodology and findings in an internally consistent and systematic way. The description of the G/T which follows applies to its electronic format.

The premises on which this work has been written are:

  1. Every basic term must be empirically defined, using terms that can be ostensively defined.
  2. Terms that cannot yet be so defined should be held to a minimum, and should be identified as such.
  3. When presented to the reader, each definition should appear in each of the contexts in which it is used.
  4. Needed cross-references should be built into the work, but should not distract the reader.


The work has necessarily developed as two closely related parts. The first is a Thesaurus, in which each term appears serially in the context or contexts in which the word is most frequently used. This serial ordering is quasilogical: insofar as possible, terms conceptually antecedent to, or appearing in the definition of a specific targeted term appear in the thesaurus before the target term. Terms whose definitions may include or allude to a target term appear after it. Adjacent to the target term should appear the terms most closely related to it, e.g., synonyms, near synonyms, and antonyms. In some instances, terms likely to be confused with the target term are juxtaposed to preclude continuing confusion.

The Thesaurus is organized in 25 sections, the last of which is still incomplete. Each section includes numbered (e.g., 01.01) subsections and sub-subsections (e.g., 02.02.01), some of which are titled. Each entry is further assigned (but not shown to the reader) a three-digit number, allowing unique identification in each of its positions in the Thesaurus. There are approximately 5,500 entries in the Thesaurus.

When the person consulting the work reads the definitions in a thesaurus section consecutively, he or she will effectively present him/herself with an approximation to a text or treatise on the topical area in which the targeted term is used. Such browsing is further encouraged by the attempt to use a readable informal style, rather than a formal “scientific” one.


The second part (not yet available in WWW format) is the Glossary. This includes the definition of each term in the thesaurus, with commentary. The great majority of these definitions are stated in empirical terms and are so identified. These utilize terms defined elsewhere in the Glossary, using other words only when their lexical definitions are critically acceptable. Commentaries may illustrate, exemplify, explain, critically evaluate, or otherwise develop the concept more fully, as in an encyclopedia or treatise. Each term, both in the definition and in the commentary, that is defined elsewhere in the Glossary is a “hyper-link” to that definition.

At present, more than 3,000 terms have been defined with comment, which are now undergoing final editorial review. The structure of the G/T is such that it may be indefinitely expanded so that further behavioral terms which may be developed may be added to it.

The Working Thesaurus

The opening screen of the Thesaurus presents the titles of the 25 sections. Selecting a section advances to the corresponding subsections, or the vertical scrollbar can be used to scan the entire contents. Choosing a subsection will open the Thesaurus window (T-window) showing the terms of that subsection. For testing and feedback, only the terms in Section O1. are available here; no definitions are as yet provided.

Choosing a term from the T-window will open up the Glossary window (G-window) containing the definition of the targeted term, together with commentary–and eventually audio-visual elements (multimedia) exemplifying and explaining the term. Try it, then come back (close the new window) to finish reading this. Note that you’ll need a frames-capable browser.

The (non)Working Glossary

When a term whose definition is sought is entered, and that word is not included in the G/T, the inquirer is immediately so informed. If it is included, the term is displayed in each of the contexts in which it appears, along with antecedent and subsequent entries, in separate Thesaurus-windows (T-windows), which can be scrolled to show additional terms. After the reader has chosen the most appropriate context and selected the term whose definition he or she wishes to read, the definition will appear in a Glossary-window (G-window). The reader can then read or browse through the definitions of other terms in that subsection, either by using navigation buttons or menu commands. Selecting a different T-window will update the G-window.


The G/T is not yet ready for publication, either in electronic or printed form. The print version will include both definitions and thesaurus entries; definitions will appear in alphabetical order, and each definition will specify the position or positions of that term in the Thesaurus.

This prototype lends itself to multimedia treatment: Many definitions and commentary should (and hopefully will) include graphs, figures, animations, action shots, voice, and other sounds. With such capabilities, terms which require ostensive (pictorial or sonic) definition can be added to the full text, and processes can be shown graphically, as well as defined in words.

It is expected that successive future editors will be able to keep the G/T updated, incorporating new terms as they appear, deleting or flagging terms as they drop out of use, ever expanding both area and depth of coverage, and adding multimedia materials as they are needed and become available.

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