What are Conditioned Motivating Operations?

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Conditioned Motivating Operations in ABA

Conditioned motivating operations (CMOs) are motivating operations that are established through learning history. CMOs are just like unconditioned motivating operations (UMOs) except UMOs do not require learning. In ABA, motivating operations alter the value of consequences while evoking or abating behavior typically due to deprivation or satiation. Motivating operations are part of the “four term contingency” which is comprised of an MO, an SD, a response, and a consequence. Conditioned motivating operations are one of the more difficult concepts to learn for the BCBA exam and the BCaBA exam. There are three types of conditioned motivating operations: surrogate (CMO-S), reflexive (CMO-R), and transitive (CMO-T). Continue reading to better understand CMOs and the different types you need to know.

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Surrogate Conditioned Motivating Operations (CMO-S)

What are surrogate conditioned motivating operations (CMO-S)? When a stimulus is paired with another motivating operation and gains the properties of that motivating operation it is considered a surrogate CMO. The surrogate has the same effects on behavior and consequences as the motivating operation that it was paired with.

Surrogate Conditioned Motivating Operation Example: The more tired you become, the more valuable sleep becomes. “Tired” is the motivating operation. If you are always tired around 9pm then 9pm will start to become paired with the “tired” motivating operation. From now on, even if you aren’t tired, 9pm will increase the value of sleep. 9pm has become the surrogate MO.

Reflexive Conditioned Motivating Operations (CMO-R)

What are reflexive conditioned motivating operations (CMO-R)? When a stimulus gains the properties of a MO because it signals a situation is getting better or worse. Think of CMO-Rs as warnings that something good or bad is about to happen. Most commonly, CMO-Rs are considered warnings for when something bad is about to happen. Because of this, CMO-Rs typically lead to escape or avoidance behavior in order to avoid or escape the situation ahead.

Reflexive Conditioned Motivating Operation Example: You have been drinking for hours and your friend orders a round of whiskey shots. The “order” is the CMO-R signaling your situation is about to get worse. The value of escaping or avoiding being around for the order of shots has increased significantly.

Transitive Conditioned Motivating Operations (CMO-T)

What are transitive conditioned motivating operations (CMO-T)? When a stimulus establishes or abolishes the need for another stimulus. In other words, the presence of the CMO-T increases or decreases the value of another stimulus as a reinforcer. When this type of CMO is present, you are going to want to try to obtain another stimulus, or get rid of a stimulus in response.

Transitive Conditioned Motivating Operation Example: You are given a steak at a restaurant. The steak increases the value of a steak knife.

Transitive Conditioned Motivating Operation Example: You are given a piece of paper, but do not have a writing utensil. The value of the writing utensil increases.

How to Prepare for Conditioned Motivating Operations on the BCBA Exam

How should you prepare for CMOs when studying for the BCBA exam or the BCaBA excam? First off, don’t panic. The likelihood of seeing more than 4 or 5 CMO questions on the exam is very small, if you see that many at all. I would recommend working on CMOs near the end of your studying period to avoid any frustration associated with learning about conditioned motivating operations. Do not confuse CMOs with compound schedules of reinforcement. I would also recommend buying our BCBA exam prep study materials.

In addition, doing BCBA practice questions is a great way to prepare for your exam. You can find practice question videos on our YouTube: BCBA and RBT Exam Playlist

For RBT study materials, check out RBT Exam Review