What is an Establishing Operation?
An establishing operation (EO) is a condition of deprivation or aversion that temporarily alters (usually raises) the value of a particular reinforcer. It is a motivating operation that increases the effectiveness of a reinforcer (i.e., some stimulus, object, or event). Establishing operations have two effects: they result in a change in the reinforcing effectiveness of some stimulus, object, or event, and they result in a change in the frequency of the behavior that has been reinforced by that stimulus, object, or event (Michael, 1982; 2000; Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). For example, food deprivation creates an establishing operation for the need to consume food.
Why is an establishing operation important?
An establishing operation is especially important in mand training (vocal requesting) for children with autism. Behavior analysts will likely optimize vocal mand training in order to promote the likelihood that the child will emit mands/requests in order to receive food. When there is a strong establishing operation in place, there is a greater likelihood that the behavior, the mand, will be emitted in order to access the reinforcing consequence.