Motivating Operations and Language Development
Motivating operations (MOs) affect the frequency of responses that have resulted in access to specific rewards, as well as the momentary effectiveness of the respective rewards, also called reinforcers (Laraway, Snycerski, Michael, & Poling, 2003). Typically, MOs are manipulated by scheduling intervals of deprivation and satiation. Deprivation, or when you have not had access to a reinforcer for a period of time, can increase the value of those reinforcers and the frequency of responses that result in access to the reinforcer. Conversely, satiation, or when you have had free access to reinforcers for a period of time, can decrease the value of the reinforcer and the frequency of responses that can result in access to the reinforcer. Manipulating MOs plays an important role in teaching language. For example, one might schedule request (also called mand) training when a child is more likely to be deprived of a specific item (e.g., mand training for food items scheduled before lunch). This strategy speeds up the acquisition of mands (e.g., O’Reilly et al., 2012).
While manipulating MOs for manding has become standard practice in clinical settings, no such procedures have been developed for other types of language, such as labeling (tacting) or engaging in conversation (intraverbal responding). An example of tacting is when a child sees a flying plane and then tells the mother “Look! It’s a plane!”. An example of intraverbal responding is when the mother asks a question, and the child responds. The consequence for tacting and intraverbal is social interaction, typically in the form of social praise; this is different than the consequences for the mand, which typically consist of tangible items or activities. If manipulating Mos affects tacting and intraverbal as well, then this strategy could increase the efficiency of language training tailored for these types of language.
In our first study (Cengher, Jones, & Fienup, 2014), we examined the extent to which presession social interaction influences how much typically developing children tact. The experimenter conducted tact training to create a functional class of spoken words with a controlled history of social reinforcement. Following training, a functional analysis demonstrated that the participants used newly acquired words to tact objects in the environment. Deprivation and satiation of social interaction was achieved by scheduling 15 min presession intervals of independent play or joint play (play with the experimenter, where a lot of social interaction was provided). These pressession intervals of independent or joint play were immediately followed by a progressive ratio assessment, where the number of times the participants tacted was measured. For two participants, independent play resulted in increased tacting as compared to joint play. The third participant showed no differential responding. Therefore, some children tact more after playing independently as compared to after playing with the experimenter. It is possible that manipulation of MOs could be employed in tact training to enhance its efficiency. However, we were not sure whether this would be effective for children with autism, who have deficits in their social use of communication (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), and who represent the primary population that benefits from behavior analytic intervention (Rosenwasser & Axelrod, 2001).
With our second study, we attempted to extend this line of research by examining the effects of presession social interaction on tact acquisition in children with autism. We first conducted a preference assessment for social consequences (i.e., high fives, statements of praise) to identify the most preferred consequences for each participant. Then, we assigned unknown words (tacts) to conditions of presession independent or joint play. We conducted tact training immediately following these conditions. During tact training, the participants were presented with a picture, asked “What is this?”, and following correct responses the experimenter provided social praise and preferred social consequences. Incorrect responses were followed by error correction and no social praise. The results showed that all participants learned the tacts in the independent play condition more efficiently as compared to the tacts assigned to the joint play condition; in fact, one of the participant was not able to meet mastery for the tacts assigned to the joint play condition! These outcomes support the notion that manipulation of MOs increases the effectiveness and efficiently of tact training, and more notably that these procedures can be implemented with children with autism.
This line of research is promising in that it can help develop a new methodology to teach different types of language. Our goal is to extend this line of research by focusing on other types of language, such as the intraverbal, identifying the effects of these procedures on other variables, such as generalization and maintenance, as well as identifying the parameters that make presession exposure to social interaction most effective and efficient. There is more to learn about MOs and social consequences, and we are excited about the intellectual journey that will take us there.
Cengher, M. & Fienup, D. M. (2016). The effects of presession social interaction on the acquisition of tacts. Manuscript in preparation.
Cengher, M., Jones, E. A., & Fienup, D. M. (2014). The effects of presession attention on tacting. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47, 176-180. doi: 10.1002/jaba.83 [link]