Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

Previous Page


Invited Paper Session #166
CE Offered: BACB
Language Development as the Behavior Scientist Sees It
Saturday, May 25, 2024
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 108 AB
Area: VRB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Rocio Rosales (University of Massachusetts Lowell)
CE Instructor: Martha Pelaez, Ph.D.
MARTHA PELAEZ (Florida International University), Gary Novak (California State University Stanislaus)

From the viewpoint of a natural science of behavior, language acquisition is a developmental process.. In this paper we present the core principles of behavioral systems theory (BST) combining current developmental systems concepts with behavioral ones. We outline the core principles of BST relevant to early language development. Developmental changes are marked by the transactions between genetic inheritance, interactional history, current physiological and environmental conditions, and behavior dynamics. Contingencies operating in the young child’s current social environment are catalysts coalescing conditions into organized patterns of verbal behavior. Some of these emergent patterns allow verbal behavioral cusps to develop. Early language skills are the result of an intensive, intuitive, and naturally occurring learning process consisting of reciprocal contingent interactions between children and caregivers. This naturally occurring process resembles the use of multiple exemplar training procedures employed by researchers in training language skills in children. We explore the role of basic cusps in early childhood including orienting responses, eye contact, joint attention, social referencing, manding, tacting, naming, intraverbals, autoclitics generalized vocal imitation, and stimulus equivalence. These cusps facilitate the emergence of new and more advanced socio-cognitive skills later in childhood such as perspective taking and complex rule-following.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Behavior analysts, researchers, individuals interested in language development

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) explain the basics of language development from a natural science perspective; (2) list and describe the basic concepts of behavioral systems theory; (3) list at least four behavioral cusps important in language development.
MARTHA PELAEZ (Florida International University)

Martha Pelaez is a Frost Professor of Psychology at the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education (CASE), School of Human Development, Florida International University. Dr. Pelaez teaches courses in Educational Psychology, Child Development, Single-Subject Designs, and directs infant and early childhood research. Her research has been supported by NIH and March of Dimes. Dr. Pelaez research involves mother-infant interactions and early social–learning processes, as well design applied early interventions with infants with developmental delays, child depression, early signs of autism, and language development Dr. Pelaez has published more than 100 articles in refereed journals (including the American PsychologistChild Development, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Behavior Analysis in Practice, and Perspectives on Behavior Science), dozens of chapters and monographs, and an influential textbook on Child Development (with Novak, 2004, 2022).  Professor Pelaez is the founding editor of the Behavior Development Bulletin (1990-2017) and has been a member of nine editorial boards of refereed journals, including the European Journal of Behavior Analysis and Perspectives on Behavior Science. She has received Fellowship status from the American Psychological Association (APA) and from the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). Dr. Pelaez is the 2023 recipient of the Nathan H. Azrin Award granted by the American Psychological Association (APA) for her distinguish contributions to applied research with infants. She is a trustee of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies and serves as an At-Large Representative on the Executive Council Board of Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) and past member of the Science Board.




Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh