The Analysis of Verbal Behavior

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 21–37 | Cite as

The role of automatic reinforcement in early language acquisition

  • Mark L. Sundberg
  • Jack Michael
  • James W. Partington
  • Cindy A. Sundberg


The vocal behavior of five children was recorded and analyzed during pre- and post-pairing conditions. Between these conditions there was a pairing condition where a target sound, word, or phrase was paired with an established form of reinforcement (e.g., tickling). In the first experiment all of the children emitted the targeted responses during the post-pairing condition. The results showed that the children acquired new vocal and verbal responses by pairing neutral stimuli with established forms of conditioned or unconditioned reinforcement. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these results was that new vocal responses were acquired by the children without the use of direct reinforcement, echoic training, or prompts. In the second experiment several parameters of the pairing procedure were examined. The results of the two experiments have implications for the analysis of native language acquisition, and for the development of language intervention procedures for individuals who fail to acquire language.


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Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark L. Sundberg
    • 1
  • Jack Michael
    • 2
  • James W. Partington
    • 3
  • Cindy A. Sundberg
    • 4
  1. 1.Behavior Analysts, Inc.DanvilleUSA
  2. 2.Western Michigan UniversityUSA
  3. 3.Behavior Analysts, Inc.USA
  4. 4.Independent Living Services, UnlimitedUSA

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