by Darlene Magito McLaughlin, Ph.D., BCBA-D/LBA-NY
Through these weeks and months of Covid uncertainty, people may be more likely to encounter many aversive events all at once. On a given day, a person may experience a physical event, such as heat/humidity; a social event, such as a long period of waiting for help/assistance in a store; and a physiological event, such as having a headache. The cumulative impact of these setting events can produce behavior changes that others may label as “negative affect” or “bad mood” (Dunlap & Koegel, 1980). In some instances, bad mood may be associated with more pronounced problem behavior, such as “shutting down,” walking away, or “having a meltdown.”
The mechanism through which bad mood impacts problem behavior can be plausibly related to the concept of establishing operations (Michael, 1982). Establishing operations momentarily change the reinforcing or aversive properties of response consequences. For example, the convergence of several setting events (e.g., heat/humidity, waiting, and having a headache) could make a normal daily activity, such as food shopping, more aversive than would be the case if those setting events were absent. Shutting down and leaving the store is a response that extricates the person from the situation. This response is negatively reinforced because it allows the person to escape (terminate) the task. Over time, the tendency to shut down increases as the person recognizes that this is an effective way to avoid aversive situations.
As we endeavor to support ourselves and others through a myriad of setting events post-Covid, we can revisit the classic study by Carr, Magito McLaughlin, Giacobbe-Grieco, and Smith (2003). In the study, the authors used a simple
6-point Likert-type scale, such as this one, to assess mood.
BAD MOOD NEUTRAL GOOD MOOD
The researchers found that when an individual was rated as being in a bad mood, there was a much higher likelihood of problem behavior in the context of ordinary daily activities. When the individual was rated as being neutral or in a good mood, there was much less likelihood of problem behavior while performing these same activities.
In an effort to remediate the situation, the researchers went on to identify things that were typically associated with good mood. Some examples were jokes, making a phone call, eating a donut, listening to certain music/songs, looking at photos, planning a trip or “big” event, playing a game, getting a massage, or taking a bath. The researchers hypothesized that introducing things associated with good mood might reasonably neutralize the impact of bad mood, making problem behavior less likely to occur. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened! The researchers empirically demonstrated that mood induction can be a useful preventive approach for dealing with problem behavior. Understanding when you’re in a bad mood can prompt you to slow down and take the time to identify potential setting events that may be affecting you. Recognizing that you’re in a bad mood can also prompt you to improve your mood by redesigning the environment or initiating active coping. It only takes a few minutes to do it, and the effects are
lasting. Furthermore, practicing mood induction on yourself or others is likely to increase the likelihood of using mood induction again and again, leading to a healthier, happier, and more productive lifestyle!
Carr, E.G., Magito McLaughlin, D., Giacobbe-Grieco, T., & Smith, C.E. (2003). Using mood ratings and mood induction in assessment and intervention for severe problem behavior. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 108 (1), 32-55.
Dunlap, G. & Koegel, R.L. (1980). Motivating autistic children through stimulus variation. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13, 619-627.
Michael, J. (1982). Distinguishing between discriminative and motivational functions of stimuli.Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 37, 149-155.