• establishing operations;
  • positive reinforcement;
  • deprivation;
  • satiation

Positive reinforcement procedures have had a major impact on educational programs for the developmentally disabled; nevertheless, variation in reinforcer effectiveness both within and across individuals is a common phenomenon. This study examined one class of variables—establishing operations—that might influence the effectiveness of reinforcers. Five developmentally disabled adult males participated. Responding on one of two motor tasks—switch closure or block placement—was assessed during baseline, satiation, and deprivation conditions with respect to three classes of consequences: small food items, music, and social praise. Deprivation and satiation conditions were constructed so as not to alter significantly the normal course of events in a subject's day. For example, food deprivation entailed scheduling sessions just prior to a subject's regular lunch, and social deprivation involved limiting a subject's access to social interaction for 15 minutes, during which time the subject had access to an assortment of other activities. Results showed that each stimulus class functioned as reinforcement with different degrees of effectiveness during satiation versus deprivation conditions. These results are discussed in light of previous research on enhancement of reinforcer efficacy as well as the assessment and identification of functional reinforcers, and implications are presented for future research and client habilitation.