Call for Papers: Scope of Operant and Pavlovian Principles in First-Language Learning

Submission Deadline: October 1, 2022

Guest Associate Editors:
Elena Nicoladis, University of Alberta,
Anna Petursdottir, Texas Christian University,

Following Chomsky’s (1959) critique of Skinner’s (1957) Verbal Behavior, language researchers came to approach children’s first-language learning primarily from a cognitive perspective and often avoided invoking operant or Pavlovian learning principles. In recent years, there have been changes in theoretical approaches to first-language learning from a cognitive perspective. Notably, usage-based theories have been shown to explain many phenomena in child language acquisition. However, many usage-based approaches remain vague on the learning mechanisms involved in first language learning. Moreover, Sturdy and Nicoladis (2017) argued that cognitive researchers sometimes re-invented basic associative learning mechanisms, only calling them by different names.

Concurrent with these developments, a substantial increase in research activity derived from Skinner’s (1957) work has occurred within the behavior-analytic tradition (Petursdottir & Devine, 2017). However, most of this activity consists of applied research in the area of language intervention, with relatively less attention devoted to testing the power of basic learning principles to explain language acquisition in the natural environment.

The purpose of this special section is to address the question of the scope of operant (selectionistic) and Pavlovian (associative) learning principles in children’s first language learning. How much can these basic learning mechanisms explain, and are there aspects of language they cannot explain? We expect that there is a fair bit of agreement that children learn the phonology and phonetics of their first language(s) through statistical, associative or selectionist mechanisms. How about other aspects of language, such as meaning and syntax?

We invite researchers who approach language from a variety of theoretical backgrounds, including associationist, behavior-analytic, and cognitive psychology, to submit articles on this topic.

To be included in this special section, papers should be submitted by October 1, 2022 at the Perspectives on Behavior Science Editorial Manager site. Use the Drop-Down menu on  to identify your manuscript as being part of the Special Section on THE SCOPE OF ASSOCIATIVE LEARNING PRINCIPLES IN FIRST-LANGUAGE LEARNING. 

Inquiries can be sent to Anna Petursdottir or Elena Nicoladis, Guest Associate Editors, or Chris Newland, Editor in Chief.