Motivating Operations: Understanding the Motivation in ABA Treatment

Objectives:

  • Discuss a behavior analytic view of motivation and how this differs from most mainstream views
  • Distinguish between discriminative stimuli and MOs
  • Define and give examples of MOs and explain how they influence behavior
  • Discuss the role of MOs in functional communication training (FTC), and identify strategies for increasing client motivation during mand training

Why do We Care About Motivation?

Our ability to motivate clients will have a significant impact on the effectiveness of ABA intervention programs.

What do you think of when we talk about motivation?

  • The Drive/desire to act or do something
  • Incentive or inducement
  • Causes a person to act
  • Desire to obtain/reach a goal
  • Intrinsic or Extrinsic
  • Different for everyone

Motivation: An internal state or characteristic of a person that serves to activate and direct their behavior

  • Most mainstream ideas about motivation don’t consider the role of environment

What do Behavior Analysts think about motivation?

Skinner: motivation involves certain environmental conditions that influence reinforcers…

  • Satiation/habituation: reduces the effectiveness of a reinforcer (“I’m sick of cake!”)
  • Deprivation: increases the effectiveness of a reinforcer (I haven’t had cake for two weeks!)
  • Aversive stimulation: increases effectiveness of escape from stimulation as a reinforcer (“I have a headache”)

Motivation is NOT located inside the person

  • Motivation depends on what is going on in your environment.
    • In other words, the more available something is the less you want it, the less available it is the more you want it, and this likewise either promotes or inhibits the motivation needed to obtain that thing.
    • Additionally, we don’t make assumptions about what should motivate people. We simply identify what does motivate a person. In each moment.
    • We talk about motivating variables as being Motivating Operations (MOs)

Where do motivational variables fit into our ABCs?

When we are trying to understand behavior, we need to consider motivating operations, as well as antecedents, behaviors and consequences. In other words, we need to consider motivating operations in addition to antecedents as an additional variable in trying to understand why learners are doing particular things.

So where does motivation fit into the ABCs (otherwise known as the 3-term contingency)? In 1982, Dr. Jack Michael’s paper Distinguishing Between Discriminative and Motivational Functions of Stimuli, addresses that we must distinguish between two kinds of antecedent events when conducting an ABC analysis of behavior:

  1. Discriminative Stimuli (Sds): Signals the availability of a reinforcer (and so triggers a particular behavior)
  2. Motivating Operations (MOs): Determines how motivated you are to get that reinforcer (so how strongly you will respond to the SD)

In turn this essentially adds a fourth step to the 3-term contingency. It is what is happening prior to the Antecedent that is either going to increase or decrease motivation:

Now we have a 4-term contingency!

 

Establishing Operation (EO): This term is frequently used within the ABA field, however Motivating Operation is a more technically precise term.

  • Practitioners often refer to EOs, rather than using the term MOs, particularly when teaching language or skill acquisition
  • MO is an umbrella term for different kinds of MOs that increase (EOs) or decrease (AOs) motivation (more about this later)
  • For the most part, in clinical practice, we are generally concerned with establishing or increasing motivation, so using the term EO is also appropriate.

Motivating Operations: What are they?

An MO is an environmental variable or temporary state that alters two things:

  1. The effectiveness of a reinforcer
  2. The frequency of behaviors associated with that reinforcer in the past

Which results in having two effects:

  1. Affects how much you want something (value altering effect)
  2. Affects what you will do to get it (behavior altering effect)

MO vs SD

SDs and MOs both

  • Are present before the behavior
  • Interact to produce changes in behavior

However, they are also very different

 

Two Types of MOs

Establishing Operations (EOs): EO’s increase motivation

Abolishing Operations (AOs): AO’s decrease motivation

Remember, all MOs have two effects:

  • Affect how much you want something – value altering effect
  • Affect what you will do to get it – behavior altering effect
    • The only difference between EOs and AOs is the direction of their effects
    • Motivation can increase or decrease

  • Where there is an EO there is always an AO!
  • Again, you will hear practitioners most often referring to EOs in clinical practice because we are typically focused on establishing or finding ways to increase a clients motivation
  • Manipulating EOs is particularly important during language training

Functional Communication Training (FCT)

Behavior analysts use Functional Communication Training (FCT) to decrease problem behavior

  • Often problem behavior is communicative
  • FCT aims to teach appropriate alternative ways to communicate one’s needs
  • FCT centers around MO’s

What Problem Behaviors Can Be Trying To Communicate:

A child who goes to school hungry (having missed breakfast) and begins to act aggressively and steal food during snack time.

  • “I am hungry! I want food!”

A mom bring her child to the mall on Saturday afternoon and asks him to wait while she bends down to tie his sisters shoes. The child then starts to vocalize loudly and hit himself in the head.

  • “Get me out of here! It’s too much! I can’t do it!”

A mom is doing laundry. She is on the phone in another room for 25 minutes while her daughter is in the living room playing with her toys. The child calls for her mother. When she receives no answer, she starts screaming and throwing her toys.

  • “Pay attention to me! I am bored”

What is Functional Communication Training?

An antecedent intervention in which an appropriate communicative behavior is taught as a replacement behavior for problem behavior usually evoked by an MO.

  • FCT teaches appropriate alternative communicative behaviors
  • Decreases the need to engage in inappropriate communicative behaviors
  • Captures, contrives or eliminates MOs related to deprivation/satiation

In the previous examples this would look like:

A child who goes to school hungry (having missed breakfast) and begins to act aggressively and steal food during snack time.

  • “I am hungry! I want food!”
  • Teach the child how to appropriately ask for food to indicate that they are hungry

A mom brings her child to the mall on Saturday afternoon and asks him to wait while she bends down to tie his sisters shoes. The child then starts to vocalize loudly and hit himself in the head.

  • “Get me out of here! It’s too much! I can’t do it!”
  • Teach the child to indicate that he needs a break

A mom is doing laundry. She is on the phone in another room for 25 minutes while her daughter is in the living room playing with her toys. The child calls for her mother. When she receives no answer, she starts screaming and throwing her toys.

  • “Pay attention to me! I am bored”
  • Teach the child to ask for attention appropriately or say that she is bored

How do we use Functional Communication Training?

The BCBA will first:

  1. Define what the challenging behavior is
  2. Determine its communication function (i.e., what is the child trying to say)
  3. Identify a functionally equivalent replacement communication behavior (i.e., what could the child do instead that would serve the same function more appropriately)
  4. Identify potential reinforcers that can be used to teach the new communication behavior

The RBT/Therapist will then teach the new behavior:

  • Prompt and reinforce the target behavior
  • Create as many learning opportunities as possible
  • Fade out prompts until the child is using their new communicative behavior independently
  • Put the challenging behavior on extinction (the problem behavior must no longer work for the child)

The BCBA and RBT will make sure to:

  • Generalize the behavior across settings and people (to ensure the child is using their new skill in every situation that matters)
  • Check for maintenance regularly (ensure the child continues to use their new skill over time)

FCT: Mand Training

  • Teaching the child to request appropriately for what they want
  • Mand = a request (can be vocal or nonverbal)
  • Manding is a foundational/early emerging communicative behavior
  • Directly benefits the child (reinforcement is “built in” since the child gets what they want)

MOs and Mands

Skinner (1957) Mand = A verbal operant that is evoked by an MO and results in a specific reinforcement

  • Teaching manning is a key way to decrease problem behavior triggered by the child’s desire for something
  • We replace the problem behavior with an appropriate way of requesting wants and needs
  • Since mands are evoked by EOs (Laraway et al., 2003; Michael, 1993), the manipulation of EOs is very important during mand training: we want to maximize the client’s desire for the target item so they are more likely to mand for it

3 Strategies RBTs can use to manipulate EOs for mands:

  1. Brief Deprivation (Williams & Greer, 1993): Typically involves increasing or contriving an EO by briefly showing or giving the client access to a desired item or activity and then briefly removing or blocking access to the item/activity; sometimes called “tempting”
  2. Interrupted Chain (McGee, et al., 1983; Michael, 1982): Contriving a situation whereby the client has to mand for missing items needed to complete a behavior chain, such as a play or daily living routine: Typically involves the RBTs hiding or blocking access to something the client needs to complete the chain.
  3. Incidental or Captured Opportunities (Hart and Risely, 1975): Here the therapist gets the client to mand by taking advantage of naturally occurring situations where the client wants something

Why does modifying MOs not produce permanent changes in behavior?

  • MOs vary from moment to moment, therefore manipulating MOs will not result in permanent changes in behavior–ongoing manipulation is need to keep an MO in effect (Michael, 2000)

Conclusion

  • Manipulating MOs can take time and may be unrealistic in some cirucumstances
  • MO manipulations may not result in immediate improvement in behavior
  • MO manipulations must be ongoing–they do not result in permanent behavior change
  • MO manipulation will only make up part of a comprehensive intervention program
  • Teaching appropriate replacement behaviors, as in FCT is an essential part of any behavior intervention plan (BIP)

References

  • Langthorne, P., & McGill, P. (2009). A Tutorial on the Concept of the Motivating Operation and It’s Importance to Application, Behavior Analysis in Practice, 2(2), 22.
  • Laraway, S., Snycerski, S., Michael, J. & Poling, A. (2003). Motivating Operations and Terms to Describe Them: Some Further Refinements. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 36(3). 407-414.
  • McGill, P. (1999). Establishing Operations: Implications for the Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention of Problem Behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 32(3). 393-418.
  • Michael, J. (1993). Establishing Operations. The Behavior Analyst. 16(2). 191.
  • Shillingsburg, M.A., (2005). The Use of the Establishing Operation in Parent-child Interaction Therapies. Child & Family Behavior Therapy. 26(4). 43-58.

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