Antecedent Control Establishing Operations and Discriminative Stimuli

The manipulation of motivational states conducive to learning is referred to as antecedent control. Some forms of antecedent control remain outside the trainer's direct influence (e.g., genetic and biological factors such as breed-typical tendencies, inherited traits, and some behavioral thresholds). In addition to setting events such as hunger, thirst, biological condition, medications, and general social needs, several other forms of antecedent control are under the direct influence of the trainer. These include establishing operations (e.g., reinforcer sampling or priming and a variety of transient motivational changes conducive to instrumental learning); discriminative stimuli (e.g., signals and commands-setting occasions when reinforcement is most likely to follow some specified behavior); and conditioned stimuli (conditioned attractive or aversive establishing operations). An establishing operation (EO) is a motivational antecedent that influences the extent to which a particular outcome (reinforcer or punisher) will strengthen or weaken the behavior it follows. According to Michael, an EO is an "environmental event, operation, or stimulus condition that affects an organism by momentarily altering (a) the reinforcing effectiveness of other events and (b) the frequency of occurrence of that part of the organism's repertoire to those events as consequences" (1993:192).

Setting events and EOs are of great significance for behavior modification because their manipulation alters the relative effectiveness of reinforcement and punishment. For example, the presentation of food to a hungry dog may be highly reinforcing, whereas if the dog is sick or sated, the food reward may not function as a reinforcer at all. In fact, in such cases, the presentation of food may punish the behavior that it follows. Further, manipulating EOs increases or decreases the likelihood that some class of behavior associated with the reinforcer or punisher will or will not occur. In the case of a hungry dog offered a noncontingent treat (reinforcer sampling), the dog will be more likely to beg, increase activity levels, or emit other behavior that has successfully obtained food in the past. A similar effect is achieved by briefly giving the dog a ball to play with, then making continued access to it contingent on some required behavior.

A warning or threat may function as an

EO for avoidance behavior, thus making it more likely that the dog will respond to a command previously associated with negative reinforcement. A failure to sit, for example, followed by "No!" will raise the likelihood that the dog will sit when the command is repeated. in this case, the reprimand "No!" is an EO making the sit response more likely to occur in the presence of the vocal signal as well as enhancing the effect of negative reinforcement when the dog sits. Obviously, an EO and a discriminative stimulus (Sd) (e.g., "Sit") share a functional relationship as antecedent variables controlling the occurrence or nonoccurrence of both wanted and unwanted behavior. in the case of reinforcement, the EO raises the likelihood that some particular behavior will occur and be effectively reinforced, whereas the Sd precisely defines the occasion when the response is most likely to produce the reinforcer, that is, the EO exercises motivational control while the Sd exercises stimulus control. Identifying EOs and SDs controlling unwanted behavior is vital for effective behavioral intervention. By manipulating EOs and altering or eliminating controlling SDs associated with unwanted behavior, such behavior is rendered much more responsive to modification. Secondly, by properly manipulating motivational states, more desirable alternative forms of behaviors can be easily shaped and brought under control.

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  • michelle
    What are some characteristics of establishing operation?
    3 years ago

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