Mands for Information Protocol

“A question is a mand which specifies verbal action”. (Skinner, 1957)

Mand Target: Student will request information using what, where, who, whose, which, when, why, how, can, does, and will questions.

Pre-requisite mand skills: These skills should NOT be taught until the child is spontaneously manding for hundreds of different items/activities, actions, missing items, help, manding with yes/no, and manding for the removal of aversives.

Pre-requisite skills from other strands: Because the reinforcement for a question is the information, the student will need to have a well established repertoire of tacts as well as following a variety of instructions related to people, places, adjectives, prepositions, and pronouns. Consider, for example, the scenario in which a student cannot find his pencil and therefore has motivation to get information regarding the location of his pencil. If the student does not have a well established tact and listener responding repertoire, then the question “where is my pencil?” leading to the response “It’s in the blue box under my desk” may not lead to reinforcement because the student may not be able to respond to information provided such as “in”, “blue box”, or “under.”

Motivative Operations:

Establishing Effect considerations and examples:

Instructors will need to set up scenarios which involve the use of transitive motivative operations. In other words, the student being motivated for one particular reinforcer will temporarily alter the value of something else as a reinforcer (in this case information). So for example, if it is time for lunch, and the student’s lunch box (which is currently valuable) is not in its usual location, then information regarding the location of the lunch box becomes valuable, therefore creating an opportunity to teach the mand “where is my lunch box?”

Instructors will need to pay careful attention to the specific type of information that is valuable in order to effectively prompt the correct response. For example, when the names of people, places, things, and actions are reinforcing, then “what” is the correct mand to prompt; “where” is used when information about location is reinforcing; if it is the name of a specific person that is reinforcing, then “who” is the target response; “whose” is used when the name of a person who possesses something would be reinforcing; “when”, if information regarding time is reinforcing; “why”, when information for the causes of events would be reinforcing; and “how”, when information for instruction is reinforcing.

Evocative effect considerations:

Instructors need to make sure that motivation for the information is present and evokes behavior that result in the student getting the information.

Target response definition: Instructors need to shape the specific topographies that lead to the different types of information mentioned above.

Response topographies targeted for extinction: We need to make sure to extinguish error responses, which include mands for information that occur when motivation for information is not present. For example, a student may have been taught to mand for “where is my lunch box?” when motivation for the lunch box was present and the student did not know the location of the lunch box. This same student may then use “where is my lunch box?” when motivation for the lunch box is present but the location is known (so information regarding the location is not of value). In the later situation, the instructor will need to make sure that “where is my lunch box?” is not reinforced by the lunch box since it is the wrong topography to use to obtain the lunch box.

Teaching Procedures

In order to teach mands for information there will need to be a significant amount of planning and set-up involved. The reinforcement for the mand, in this case, is the information that will lead to the end reinforcer, so instructors will need to pre-plan and set-up the situation so that when the motivation for the information arises (or is contrived) and the response is given, then the student should be able to use the information to gain access to the end reinforcer.

As with other mands it is critical to make sure motivation is present before prompting the mand for information. Failure to do this may result in inadvertently reinforcing the topography (question) under the wrong conditions (no motivation for information). So in the case of the student who goes to retrieve his lunch box and does not find it in its usual location, the instructor should wait for the student to show motivation for the information regarding location of the lunch box, such as looking around for it in nearby locations, before prompting “where is my lunch box?”

Procedures need to take into consideration that information is the reinforcement and not the item. Avoid prompting mands for information that result in the student directly obtaining whatever is desired. For instance, if the student is prompted to ask, “where is the ball?” Showing him a box and saying, “it’s in this box, here have it” would serve as direct reinforcement rather than as information as reinforcement.

Other Procedural considerations:

A similar chart to that used for planning sessions for mands for missing items can be used for planning the teaching of mands for information:

Chart 18

(Adapted from Dr. Vincent Carbone)
What is already reinforcing to the student?What do I need to do to establish the value of something else as reinforcing?What now becomes valuable as a reinforcer?What response do I need to prompt?Data Collection: Record P for prompted and U for unprompted
Putting coat on to go homeRemove the coat from locker and hide behind the bookshelfLocation of the coatWhere is my coat? 

Data Collection: Instructors should keep data on prompted and spontaneous mands for information in contrived situations as well as in novel naturally occurring opportunities.

Graphing: Graph prompted vs. spontaneous mands for each specific topography.

Data based decision making: Teaching of each specific target mand for information will need to continue until the student is able to mand for information using the target response in novel (non-trained) situations.