The principles of Applied Behavior Analysis do not just occur within the vacuum of a clinical or
therapeutic setting. Believe it or not, we see the fundamentals of ABA constantly in our daily
lives. For this “ABA All Around Us” series, we’re going to break down some basic concepts and
apply them to real-world situations. Today, let’s take a look at Motivating Operations, or MO’s.

MO’s are environmental factors that impact how effective a reinforcer is. MO’s can either be Establishing Operations (EO’s) or Abolishing Operations (AO’s). An EO is an MO that increases how reinforcing something is, and an AO is an MO that decreases how reinforcing something is. MO’s precede SD’s in the behavior contingency. Remember, as we discussed last time, an SD is an environmental stimulus that signals to an individual that reinforcement is available contingent upon the occurrence of a specific behavioral response.

Let’s apply the concept of MOs to a real-world scenario. You’re going for a walk in the park on a hot summer day. You begin to get thirsty and see a water fountain on the side of your walking path up ahead. You stop at the fountain for a drink and then you continue walking. In the previous blog, we talked about Three-Term Contingencies; however, the above scenario is an example of a Four-Term Contingency.

Four-Term Contingencies include the MO as the first step in the contingency. In the above example, the setting event of you going for a walk on a hot summer day is the EO that increases how reinforcing water is (Step 1). The sight of the fountain up ahead is the SD which signals that water is available, as long as you engage in the behavior of stopping to take a drink (Step 2). Taking a drink at the fountain is the behavior (Step 3), and finally, gaining access to water and having your thirst quenched is the reinforcer (Step 4). Let’s try another example. One of your favorite drinks is hot chocolate; however, on a hot summer day you probably won’t be reinforced by gaining access to hot chocolate. This is because there is an abolishing operation (AO) in effect which decreases the reinforcing effectiveness of hot chocolate at that moment.

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