Learned or Conditioned Motivative Operations

Not all motivation works by satiation and deprivation. Some motivation is related to a person’s learning history and not to their biology. These are called learned motivative operations.

MOs for learned reinforcers are slightly more complex because their occurrence is not dependent on the direct effects of deprivation; however, they provide a much greater potential pool of events or items that can be used for mand training.

Transitive Motivative Operations

Transitive motivative operations (CMO-T) involve an increase in value of an event because it makes available some other event. The presentation of one stimulus makes some other stimulus more valuable.

For example, the value of having a pen is increased if someone hands you a piece of paper and says “write your name.” Deprivation is generally not relevant in relation to transitive MOs in a biological sense. Prior to being asked to write, the person could not be described as being “pen deprived.” No matter how long a person is without a pen, the pen will not be valuable until conditions occur that make it useful. In the example, it is only when the verbal stimulus “write your name” occurs that the value of having a pen is established. There are many examples of CMO-Ts that occur within a classroom or at home. When presented with a bottle of bubbles, the value of having the bottle opened will increase (hence, the opportunity to teach the child to request “open”) Being presented with a doll house with no furniture may increase the likelihood of asking for the furniture.

Reflexive Motivative Operations

A second kind of learned motivative operation is a reflexive motivative operation (CMO-R). CMO-Rs often play a large part in instances of challenging behaviors. For the CMO-R the presentation of a stimulus makes the removal of that stimulus valuable. CMO-Rs can be thought of as warning signals. They are learned because the individual has had repeated experience with the warning signal occurring just before something bad happens. The CMO-R serves to establish any event as a reinforcer that terminates the worsening condition and will evoke any behavior that has been so reinforced (Michael, 1993).

For example, when instruction has been repeatedly correlated with worsening conditions (such as tasks being too hard, correlation with removal of ongoing reinforcers, or a failure to adequately reinforce cooperation), any events that signal the beginning of instruction will serve as CMO-Rs. The approach of a teacher, the teacher’s voice, specific verbal instruction, and instructional materials all may result in evoking escape behaviors such as tantrums, running away, or even aggression. The teacher in this case is the CMO-R.

Establishing instructors as sources of reinforcement through the mand process can serve to reduce or eliminate the effects of CMO-Rs. The teacher, rather than serving as a warning signal, becomes a signal for the opportunity for things to get better for the student.

In certain circumstances when CMO-Rs are in effect, it is an opportunity to teach appropriate mands for escape such as saying “no” or “stop”. Teaching procedures for mands for the removal of an event must be carefully planned. In other words the procedure must be implemented at a time when the instructor is willing to allow escape.