Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Paper Session #258
Challenges to Concept of the Motivating Operation
Sunday, May 26, 2019
12:00 PM–12:20 PM
Swissôtel, Lucerne Ballroom Level, Alpine 1/2
Area: PCH
Instruction Level: Advanced
Chair: Robert K. Ross (Beacon ABA Services)

The Utility and Challenges of the Motivating Operation Concept

Domain: Theory
ROBERT K. ROSS (Beacon ABA Services)

The motivating operation (MO) as defined by Jack Michael and others has been increasingly used over the past few decades in support of applied treatment. In particular the MO concept has been used in early intensive behavioral treatment (EIBI) of children on the autism spectrum. However, Michael defines the MO concept in terms of its hypothesized effect on consequent stimuli (behavior changes and value changes). Of particular concern is the concept of “value”. Changes in the value of a stimulus are inferred rather than directly observed phenomenon. This indirect measure is problematic, since direct measures of responding are available. Additionally, the use of the MO as an antecedent causal account of specific topographies of behavior conflicts with a Skinnerian selection by consequences view of behavior, this dichotomy will be discussed with respect to discrimination responding. Challenges in discrimination of MOs and discriminative stimuli (SD’s) with respect to the standard of the “availability” of a reinforcer will also be evaluated. The author will propose alternatives to the problematic conceptual description of MOs and Conditioned Motivating Operations (CMOs).




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