Effectively defining motivating operations continues to be a thorn in the side of many aspiring BCBAs. I find that during almost every supervision cycle, there comes a time when I am asked, “What is a CMO-R? And why do I need to know this stuff?”
Because motivating operations (MO) can influence any behavior intervention that utilizes consequences as a means to alter behavior, behavior analysts need to fully grasp theses concepts.
In the next series of blogs, I am going to be breaking down the concept of MOs, with the goal of assisting us all in clearly defining motivating operations and understanding their importance in the behavior analytic field.
What are MOs?
MOs are variables that have two effects: A value altering effect of a consequence and a behavior altering effect on the behaver.
The simplest example of an MO is food deprivation. Food deprivation is a variable that affects the value of food being an effective reinforcer (value-altering effect). For example, if you are full, food loses its value as a reinforcer. On the other hand, if you are hungry, food gains value as a reinforcer. And in your state of hunger, you are more apt to engage in behaviors that result in obtaining food (behavior-altering effect). And, on the other hand, if you were full, then you’d be less likely to engage in food-obtaining behaviors.
If we think about some of Skinner’s original operant chamber experiments where he taught new behaviors and used food as a reinforcer, it was important to always use pigeons that were food deprived (MO). By doing so, the value of food was high and the pigeon was more likely to engage in behaviors that resulted in obtaining food.
Here is a flow chart of how MOs played a role in Skinner’s experiments:
MO ⇒ SD ⇒ Behavior ⇒ Consequence
Hunger ⇒ Light On ⇒ Push Bar ⇒ Get Food
In this example, hunger is the MO, because hunger makes food more valuable (value-altering effect) and makes behaviors that result in getting food - pushing the bar - more likely to occur (behavior-altering effect). Most people have little trouble grasping this simple example…….
So how might this simple example play out with our work with clients?
Here is a school example:
We all know that most children like to be active and for some, sitting for long periods of time can become uncomfortable. Regrettably, schools typically require children to sit for much of the school day thereby leading some students to become “activity deprived.” This inactivity may then act as an MO, making access to activity more valuable and behaviors that will result in access to activity will be more likely to occur. So now that the MO is created, how might a teacher utilize this MO to affect a student’s behavior?
Here is the flow chart:
Activity deprivation (MO) ⇒ “When you are done with you Math, you can go to recess” (SD) ⇒ Student finishes Math (behavior) ⇒ Student goes to recess (consequence)
In this example, activity deprivation is used as an MO to increase the behavior of Math completion.
These types of MOs are called Unconditioned Motivating Operations (UMOs) which are the simplest types of MOs. These are MOs that do not have to be learned and are part and parcel of the human condition.
Researchers have described the following nine human UMOs which can all play a part in our learning:
1 .Food deprivation/ingestion 2. Water deprivation/ingestion 3. Sleep deprivation/sleeping 4. Activity deprivation/being active 5. Oxygen deprivation/breathing 6. Sex deprivation/orgasm or sexual stimulation 7. Becoming too warm/becoming cooler 8. Becoming too cold/becoming warmer 9. Increase in painful stimulus/painful stimulation decrease
I suggest that you review these UMOs and think about how they may play a role in affecting your clients’ behavior. Next time I will present a simple test that will help you determine if a variable is an SD or an MO. After that, we will then go down the rabbit hole of CMOs.....
Have a great week!
Gregg Stoller MSW, BCBA