Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Technical Terms, Intervening Variables, and the Limits of the Concept of Motivation: A Response to Whelan and Barnes-Holmes's (2013) Commentary

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Technical Terms, Intervening Variables, and the Limits of the Concept of Motivation: A Response to Whelan and Barnes-Holmes's (2013) Commentary

Article excerpt

Whelan and Barnes-Holmes (this issue) presented a careful assessment of the analyses on motivation in behavior analysis that we proposed. Mainly, they emphasized points with which they disagree, especially regarding (a) what they define as the correct usage of technical terms, (b) what should be considered motivational, and (c) the use of intervening variables in behavior analysis. Except for the definition of motivational phenomena, however, we believe there are similarities between our proposal and the analyses presented in their commentary. In what follows, we respond to Whelan and Barnes-Holmes's commentary by elaborating on the issues they raised and by indicating where we agree and disagree.

The Correct Use of Technical Terms

We agree with Whelan and Barnes-Holmes about the importance of using technical terms correctly. The distinction between operation and process, for example, is important and should always be considered. The analysis of relations between independent and dependent variables presented in Table 1 of our article (A16 & Cancado, this issue, p. 650) has no meaning if not interpreted in terms of operations and processes. What we questioned was the necessity of always using one term for motivational operations and another term for motivational processes. Even though most authors do not use distinct terms for the operation and processes of reinforcement, punishment, and extinction, no glaring confusion is prevalent in the behavior-analytic literature as a result. We believe the same will be the case for consequence value, especially because this term by itself does not serve well in all of the same situations in which the term reinforcement, for example, is used. In much the same way as one could say "response rates increased as a function of reinforcement," and reinforcement is clearly used here as an operation, one could say "response rates increased as a function of the consequence value operation." In this case, consequence value would be the radical, to which the term operation should be added. The consequence value process in the previous example is the increase in response rates, but referring to it as a consequence-valuing process arguably would be redundant. In other cases, the term operation would not be used because one would be referring to the relation between operations and processes (e.g., "delay discounting studies are studies of consequence value.") Thus, using either term--consequence value or consequence value operation, or consequence value process--simply is a matter of appropriateness in a given context. As a closing point, we do not think new terms or acronyms should be proposed, or adopted, on the grounds of tradition.

The Scope of the Concept

Another point made by Whelan and Barnes-Holmes with which we agree concerns the experimenter's responsibility to demonstrate adequate experimental control as the basis for attributing an effect to the independent variable, whatever that variable might be. In fact, this was the basis of our argument, as we believe internal validity has precedence over any other type of experimental validity (cf. Sidman, 1960; see also Kazdin, 1999; Perone, 1991). We argued against definitions by exclusion because they leave a door open to attributing effects that cannot be accounted for by the independent variable to the variable defined by exclusion. As an example, if one manipulates some factor within the n-term contingency and an effect on behavior is observed that cannot be attributed to the variables manipulated within these n-terms, according to Whelan and Barnes-Holmes's (2010) definition of motivation by exclusion, the effect could be described as motivational. We think this is a dangerous practice, because it consists of attributing unaccounted effects to supposed motivational variables instead of isolating them experimentally. That is, one would run the risk of classifying phenomena as motivational simply because they meet the exclusion criterion, when the effectiveness of the reinforcer is in fact not modified, and of not classifying phenomena as motivational because they do not meet the exclusion criterion, even though the effectiveness of the reinforcer is altered. …

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