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.

Early Human Learning

Martha Pelaez (Florida International University)

Invited Paper



Biography:Martha Pelaez, Ph.D. is a Frost Professor of Psychology at Florida International University. Dr. Pelaez has become a very influential and important leader in behavior analysis through her innovative research on infant and child development and dedicated service to the field. She is one of very few researchers to successfully bring a behavior analytic theory to child development. Her co-authored book with Gary Novak, Child and Adolescent Development: A Behavioral Systems Approach, is considered to be the best work on child development from a behavioral perspective since Bijou and Baer’s seminal Child Development. Professor Pelaez was a founding editor of the Behavioral Development Bulletin, now considered a major psychological development journal in the field. Dr. Pelaez has published more than 100 refereed articles. Her ability to take the findings from relevant basic research domains, refine them, and apply them to developmental issues is worth noting. This is evident in her earlier work with J. Gewirtz on attachment and moral development and is also evident in the development of her taxonomy of rules and rule governance, her extension of the basic work on stimulus equivalence with infants, and her efforts to bring a relational-frame theory analysis to bear on the issue of intelligence (with D. Barns-Holmes & O’Hora). Martha Pelaez’s present research program is on child joint attention, social referencing, early communication processes and early interventions with infants at risk. Professor Pelaez has also applied behavioral principles to address a new problem of considerable social significance: the stress and anxiety associated with children returning to school in the age of the COVID pandemic (with G. Novak). In addition to Professor Pelaez’s outstanding research accomplishments and awards, she has been recognized for her long-standing, excellent service to behavior analysis through her many positions on editorial boards (Perspectives on Behavior Science, The Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior, European Journal of Behavior Analysis), her service on several important special committees and task forces. She is the current At-Large Representative at ABAI Executive Council. She is a fellow of APA, Division 25, and a fellow if ABAI. Dr. Pelaez has served as a member of the Board of Governors for the State University System in Florida and Chair of the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates in Florida.


Abstract: I will first provide experimental illustrations of how operant conditioning methodologies and social reinforcers are essential to furthering our understanding of early human learning phenomena and socialization processes. Second, I will present different procedures and interventions that have advanced our research with infants “at-risk” of autism and other developmental challenges. Third, I will offer recommendations of alternative research tactics and reinforcement procedures that can be quick and effective to behavior analysts. It is my hope that these procedures will be adopted more widely and use more frequently in designing basic experimental research and in applied interventions.


Modifed by Eddie Soh