Applied Behavior Analysis can be applied anywhere. Yes – even to the Grinch who stole Christmas!
When I was studying for my boards, I would watch movies and apply the concepts to the movie I was watching. With the holidays coming up, I thought it would be fun to analyze How the Grinch Stole Christmas from a behavior analytic perspective.
One of the main goals of ABA is to increase socially significant behaviors while decreasing maladaptive behaviors. Throughout the movie, the Grinch engages in several maladaptive behaviors that we would likely target, including aggression, property destruction, and nail biting. If one were to take ABC data on these behaviors, they would likely to find the function of these behaviors to be escape. We would work on social skills training with the Grinch.
One skill the Grinch has is functional communication – he thinks that everything “stink, stank, stunk”. He will gladly communicate that he does not want to be around people!
In one of the first scenes, you see the Grinch at school during a Christmas party. The Grinch had scabs from shaving his facial hair, resulting in his classmates making fun of him. The teasing from his classmates created an aversive situation for the Grinch. Further, this is an example as punishment, as the teasing from the classmates decreased the future frequency of the Grinch shaving his face. Further, it reinforced his negative opinion of Christmas.
One of the main characters (and my personal favorite) Cindy Lou Who, decides to try and make the Grinch like Christmas. She shows up to Mt. Crumpit to try and convince him to come to the towns Christmas lighting. In turn, the Grinch tries to scare her. Little does the Grinch know, his attempted punishment procedure of scaring Cindy Lou Who, is actually reinforcement for her! The Grinch creates a visual schedule for himself to determine if he can attend the party but is booked with wallowing in self-pity and dinner with himself (he can’t cancel that again!)
Moving forward through the movie, the Grinch decides to steal Christmas decorations and presents from the residents of Whoville. However, he couldn’t do it without his dog, Max! The Grinch uses Max to steer the sled, using a differential reinforcement procedure. The Grinch would reinforce Max in the form of verbal praise when Max would steer from the front of the sled, but if Max moved away, the Grinch would not praise him.
While stealing the gifts from Whoville, the Grinch suddenly hears singing by the residents. It made his heart grow, so the Grinch decided to return the presents. When he arrives to Whoville, the residents frequently reinforce the Grinch with verbal praise for returning the presents. It’s at that point that the Grinch admits that the holidays might not come from the store, but perhaps, means a little bit more.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst
Compleat Kidz - Copperfield