ABA Glossary: Four Term Contingency and the Effects of Motivation

August 11, 2015

A four-term contingency is something that is very important when understanding behavior and the “why” that Grafton tries to identify within its philosophy.


We often hear that there was a clear trigger that led to a behavior, and that the behavior was then reinforced (or some variant of this combination). Antecedents, the behavior, and its consequences are common when looking at behavior, but sometimes there is a forgotten fourth piece of that puzzle…motivation. Where does motivation come from? Or where does a lack of motivation come from? A level of deprivation in things that we want or need, will lead to an increase in motivation for those things, but a level of satiation will lead to a decrease in motivation for those same things. This effects how everyone responds when that antecedent/ trigger is presented.

Colorful abstract


Chris won the lottery. He usually works really hard to earn a paycheck because he needs money to live. Paycheck to paycheck there is always a level of deprivation, but now he has lots of money and his motivation to work just for a paycheck is decreased. Will a level of motivation to change the world maintain his current level of workplace behaviors?

Shweta really likes Oreo cookies. She has acquired multiple skills and will work really hard if she gets Oreos at the end of her session with Kent, but Scott gave her a whole pack of Oreos right before her session. Her motivation to be reinforced for the behaviors to acquire new skills during the session is decreased.

Bonnie loves attention from her boss and is deprived of that attention all weekend long. When she returns to work, she works really hard to set up meetings for her boss so that she gets fist bumps, smiles, compliments and high fives throughout the day.

Motivation effects behavior in many ways. In real life situations, on an individual basis when looking at specific teaching programs, and in the workplace, motivation can fluctuate between levels of deprivation and satiation. These levels will determine how reinforcing a certain consequence/reward/incentive may be. What kind of motivation are you creating?