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.


46th Annual Convention; Online; 2020

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #239
How Children Learn Early Communicative Gestures
Sunday, May 24, 2020
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Area: VRB
Chair: Einar T. Ingvarsson (Virginia Institute of Autism)
CE Instructor: Einar T. Ingvarsson, Ph.D.
Presenting Author: ELENA NICOLADIS (University of Alberta)

Children can communicate through gestures (like pick-me-up or pointing) even before they begin to speak. Some gestures likely develop through social learning (like waving hello). Researchers have argued that other early gestures, like the pick-me-up gesture, cannot be learned through social learning (since adults do not gesture to be picked up). They have therefore proposed that these gestures are learned through ontogenetic ritualization, a kind of learning that critically involves role and dyad specificity. Ontogenetic ritualization is thought to differ from operant conditioning. In this presentation, on the basis of videotaped interactions between parents and children between six and twelve months of age, I argue that these early communicative gestures are likely learned through operant conditioning. I also discuss the possible developmental origins of pointing, ranging from operant conditioning to species-typical behavior. It is important to entertain the possibility that simple and well-established learning mechanisms account for children’s early gestures.

Target Audience:

Anyone interested in the early communication of typically developing infants and toddlers as well as practitioners interested in designing interventions with clinical communication-disordered populations.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) review the different developmental origins of communicative gestures most commonly considered among researchers; (2) articulate the differences between ontogenetic ritualization and operant conditioning; (3) explain why particular communicative gestures might have particular developmental origins.
ELENA NICOLADIS (University of Alberta)
Elena Nicoladis is a professor of psychology at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include first language acquisition (both among bilinguals and monolinguals), language and thought, and gestures in communication.



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