Getting a Leg Up on Education, and the Future: Children and Words

The Innovative Work of Betty Hart and Todd Risley

Here we recognize the seminal, innovative work of Betty Hart and Todd Risley analyzing the role of early verbal interactions in subsequent academic achievement. This work is summarized below and in the attached article. Sadly, both Drs. Hart and Risley are deceased, but this work stands as a living legacy to their contributions to educating young children. 

Children are in every sense the future of our society. Whatever advantages we can convey to them conveys those same advantages to our society and its future. In 1995, Betty Hart and Todd Risley, in a book entitled Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children, summarized their long-term analysis of how the simple act of talking with children or not talking with children affects their long-term prospects as members of society.

Anyone with even a smidgen of interest in behavior analysis or education should be familiar with this work. Even though it is now almost a quarter of a century old, the importance of the work for contemporary society can’t be understated.  From a scientific point of view the research is creative and exceptionally well done. From a societal point of view, it is among the most important research that behavior analysis has to contribute to both education and the future of our society.

An excerpt from the book can be found at

Read it, please. I am certain you will be as profoundly affected as I have been by what they have learned. 

A Contemporary Application of the Hart and Risley Research That Recently Received Our Behavior Watch Outstanding Contributions Recognition

January 22, 2015: To see how the ideas of Hart and Risley are being applied today, some 20 years after they published their groundbreaking findings, see this article from the January 12, 2015 issue of The New Yorker magazine. 

Posted by Andy Lattal, Ph.D.

Dr. Andy Lattal is the Centennial Professor of Psychology at West Virginia University (WVU). Lattal has authored over 150 research articles and chapters on conceptual, experimental, and applied topics in behavior analysis and edited seven books and journal special issues, including APA’s memorial tribute to B. F. Skinner.