The Benefits of Teaching Mands Specific to the Motivation

Many leaders in the application of Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior have advocated teaching mands specific to a learner's motivation, rather than teaching generalized mands, as a learner’s first words. Here are some research-based reasons why teaching specific mands like “ball”, “juice”, and “jump” may be preferable over teaching generalized mands like “help”, “more”, and “please”.

  • Developmentally, children typically acquire mands for specific items/actions before generalized mands. We know from existing developmental checklists and assessments that children acquire specific mands for their favorite things prior to learning generalized mands like “more”, “help,”, and “please.” (Sundberg, 2008).
  • Teaching specific mands is more effective in reducing behavior than teaching generalized mands. Peer-reviewed literature has shown that mand training specific to the motivating operation is more effective at reducing problem behavior (Kahng, Hendrickson, & Vu, 2000).
  • If generalized mands are taught first, extinction will have to be employed to teach more specific mands later. A common, well-documented side-effect of extinction is an extinction burst, which can involve a temporary increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of problematic behavior (Lerman & Iwata, 1995).
  • Training specific mands can support the development of other verbal operations. Research has shown that training specific mands can increase the acquisition rate of other skills, such as tacts (Arntzen & Almas, 2002), and echoics (Drash & High, 1999).


    Arntzen, E. & Almas, I. K. (2002). Effects of mand-tact versus tact-only training on the acquisition of tacts. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 419-422.

    Drash, P. W. & High, R. L. (1999). Using mand training to establish an echoic repertoire in young children with autism. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 16, 29-44.

    Kahng, S., Hendrickson, D. J., Vu, C. P. (2000). Comparison of single and multiple functional communication training responses for the treatment of problem behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 33, 321–324.

    Lerman, D. C. & Iwata, B. A. (1995). Prevalence of the extinction burst and its attenuation during treatment. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28, 93-94.

    Sundberg, M. L. (2008) Verbal behavior milestones assessment and placement program: The VB-MAPP. Concord, CA: AVB Press.
Jessica Dean