Motivating Operations In ABA: Examples & Definition

When there are particular motivations underlying the behavior of an individual, it's known as motivating operations.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
November 29, 2022
5
min read

What Is Motivating Operations (MO)?

When there are particular motivations underlying the behavior of an individual, it's known as motivating operations. It entices people to act or prevent themselves from acting.

motivating operations in aba therapy

Motivating operations also serve as the motivators that encourage or prevent certain behaviors from springing forth.

In other words, it discourages and boosts behavior in people.

It can happen with all individuals, from those diagnosed with specific behavioral and personality disorders to people with multiple psychological disorders.

The single purpose of motivating operations is to boost or lower the reinforcement value of such behaviors.

When this happens, it can dramatically change the success of different events or stimuli throughout its reinforcement role.

It helps to change the number of times the reinforced behavior manifests itself in individual circumstances.

What Are Examples of Motivating Operations?

The following are examples of motivating operations.

1. An Abolishing Motivator

On weekend mornings, the parents of an autistic son are having breakfast. Part of their son's meal is orange juice, his favorite drink. After the first glass is finished, the son asks for more, which the parents provide for him immediately.

Once breakfast is over, the child is told to clean their room, but he doesn't oblige the demand of his parents. To get him to clean up the room, the mother says that she can give him another glass of orange juice once he finishes, but that doesn't stop him from refusing to do so.

He begins to cry, even when told of the reward that would be given.

This is an abolishing motivating operation. It's when a particular item or an event lowers a reinforcer's worth. 

In this case, the reinforcer was the orange juice. The child had been given orange juice twice in the morning, therefore decreasing the overall worth of it for the child.

2. Behavior Changes

Another example involves a woman bathing during the evening hours. It's a normal routine for her, but on the next day at work, she bruises her foot and experiences pain, even when in a stationary position. 

Once she readies for another bath, she notices that the pain stops almost instantly when she gets into the soapy bath.

As a result of this, she takes longer in the bath than she normally would and bathes again early in the morning instead of taking a shower. 

This motivating operation is exemplary of the changing effect of behavior.

It's when the impact of a reinforcer or recurrence of behavior is altered from the same motivator that kept the woman taking baths.

However, the example above can be altered as well, only this time, she hurts her back and has a difficult time getting into the bathtub as she ordinarily would. 

The altering effect would have her bathing frequency cut in half, and she takes showers more often instead of risking experiencing pain again.

3. Transition in Behavior

Another transitive example is when a child is given a sheet of paper and told to work on an assessment.

For them to begin writing out the assignment as instructed, the child needs a number two pencil. Unfortunately for them, there is no pencil in their backpack or cubby.

The value of a pencil becomes larger because of the paper that was given to the child.

This is the process of a reinforcement changing to something else that raises the worth of another object, event, or undertaking, which motivates the student to seek out a pencil in a way that they normally wouldn't.

In the final example, a man is hungry but decides to intentionally skip lunch due to a scheduled date with his wife. When lunchtime comes, he's tempted to go, as his stomach is empty, yet chooses not to in preparation for the later meal. 

This is an established operation, which raises the value of the anticipated food he's going to eat later in the day due to his hunger.

Through the action of being hungry, the behavior that is exhibited increases to ensure that the later meal will be savory for him.

What Are the Two Types of Motivating Operations?

Motivating operations have two primary types, abolishing operations and establishing operations.

They're indicated by the instances of them raising or lowering the worth of reinforcer to the point of it changing or encouraging different behaviors.

If the mother of a child tells their daughter that she'll give her the toy that she favors during a six-hour plane ride, it increases the value of the stimulus that behaves as a reinforcement, which is the toy that the girl wants. 

It motivates the desired behavior that the mother wants for their child.

As a result, the girl is on her best behavior before and during the flight, which she spent with her toy in hand.

What Are the Effects of Motivating Operations?

Motivating operations can be thought of as the variables that change the impact of stimuli, events, and objects through their reinforcement. It can also change the number of times some behaviors happen.

The primary effects of motivation operation can be positive or negative, depending on the situation.

When a child is repeatedly given something that they like, it could be more difficult for parents or teachers to use that as a bargaining tool to alter their behavior.

Likewise, it can also increase a child's ability to do their homework, undertake certain tasks, or socialize with friends when such activities produce something they like.

Who Invented Motivating Operations?

Motivating operations were first put in place by Jack Michael in the early 1980s. In the beginning, it was used to detail variables to the consequences of people's exhibited behaviors. 

This hasn't changed in the current years, with the idea still in use and studied within Applied Behavior Analysis circles to this day.

Therapists need to understand how reinforcement can make the patients they see resort to good or poor behavior before, during, and after ABA sessions in a clinic are done.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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