September 15, 2011 Leave a comment
The three-term is the basic roadmap to understanding the mechanics of behavior. It’s as simple as A, B, C: Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. Antecedents refer to things going on right before a behavior happens, and consequences refer to things going on right after a behavior happens.
There are two general categories of antecedents: discriminative stimuli and motivating operations. Discriminative stimuli refer to things happening in our environment that let us know which consequences are available contingent on a specific behavior. Motivating operations refer to temporary changes in the world around us that make a specific consequence more or less valuable.
There are several basic categories of consequences as well: access to attention or tangibles/edibles, escaping from or avoiding something unpleasant, and automatic consequences. Examples of access to attention include a simple “thanks” for doing something nice, talking to someone, getting yelled at or reprimanded, or even eye contact. Examples of escaping something unpleasant includes turning off an alarm clock, leaving a stinky room, and running from a bad guy. Examples of access to “tangibles” (and activities) includes picking up a toy, playing video games, and going to work. Examples of access to edibles includes eating a piece of cheesecake, drinking water, and eating dinner. The category automatic refers to behavior that produces an immediate consequence such as scratching your arm (produces relief from an itch) or hitting someone (causes pain).
Because behavior can get quite complex, it’s important to start with basic examples and move to more complex examples. (The above explanations are, of course, overly simplistic; behavior is never quite this simple.) Consider the overly used example of talking on the phone. The phone rings (discriminative stimulus), you pick up the phone and talk (behavior), and you enjoy a pleasant conversation with your a friend (consequence). In this case, the ringing phone let’s you know a specific consequence is available – attention from a friend – and the behavior results in the consequence. In other words, any other behavior (e.g., opening the front door) would not result in the same consequence (i.e., answering the phone and not the door is under the stimulus control of a ringing phone).
Let’s throw in one additional discriminative stimulus: caller I.D. You see the name “Roger” displayed on the phone. Typically, you’re on the phone for a while when Roger calls because conversations with Roger have been enjoyable in the past. The name displayed on caller I.D. functions as a discriminative stimulus: it let’s you know the type of consequence to follow.
Now consider the addition of motivating operations. You slept in and you’re now running late to work. Talking to a friend on the phone is temporarily less valuable (especially if it’s Roger calling): your boss has a history of yelling at people for showing up late to work, and Roger is long-winded. Thus, ignoring the call and walking out the door result in consequences of arriving to work on time and avoiding reprimands from your boss.