If a behavior analyst rewrote classic literature.

By Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA, LABA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

If you are anything like me, you enjoy a good book with an emotional ending. However, as I pursued my education and career in Behavior Analysis, I began to read books in a very different way. I realized that so much heartbreak in various stories could have been prevented had a skilled Behavior Analyst been there to save the day. The following are a few books that stand out to me in this regard:

  1. Of Mice and Men – In the book Of Mice and Men, Lenny is an intellectually disabled man and George is his companion and caretaker. At the end of the book, Lenny, unaware of his own strength, accidentally kills a dog and a woman by touching them in too rough a manner. George then shoots Lenny to prevent him from meeting a more gruesome demise at the hands of the other people in the town. Lenny’s fate could have been prevented had he been taught socially appropriate behaviors to replace the behaviors that landed him in trouble. George could have differentially reinforced softer touching while extinguishing rougher touching. He also could have taught Lenny to discriminate between people and animals that are sturdier versus more delicate.
  2. Romeo and Juliet – At the end of Romeo and Juliet, Friar Lawrence plans to have Juliet fake her own death by drinking an elixir that makes her appear to be dead. The Friar’s plan is to have Romeo then retrieve her from the tomb when she awakens so that the two can run away and elope. Friar Lawrence hands a letter to another friar, John, to give to Romeo to inform him. However, Friar John is unable to deliver the letter to Romeo in time. Romeo learns of Juliet’s “death,” and believes that she is truly dead. As a result, he goes to her tomb and commits suicide. Juliet then wakes up, sees that Romeo has killed himself, and kills herself as well. Some might argue that the tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet could have been prevented had Friar Lawrence ensured that Romeo received the news in time. There are several antecedent management strategies that the Friar could have employed to ensure that Romeo received the letter in time. He could have delivered the letter himself, or had several people charged with the delivery of the letter, thus better ensuring its successful delivery. The Friar also could also have adjusted the timeline of his plan to ensure that everybody was informed. Instead of giving Juliet the elixir and then attempting to inform Romeo, he should have informed all parties involved prior to taking any action.
  3. Hamlet – Another Shakespeare play. At the end of Hamlet, Ophelia falls into a river and drowns. Her death appears to be a suicide, or at least the result of grief in some capacity, as her father has just passed and Ophelia has just been rejected by Hamlet. Had a behavior analyst been present during this stressful and horrible time, Ophelia’s life could have been spared. Ophelia could have been taught appropriate coping replacement behaviors such as talking through her problems with a friend or a mentor, or learning relaxation strategies.

Do you ever find yourself reading books or watching TV shows and thinking, “things would have turned out so much better if a behavior analyst were here…”? Share in the comments!

Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA, LABA, is a behavior clinician in the Greater Denver Area who works with children with a range of developmental and social-emotional disabilities. She has over 4 years of experience delivering therapeutic services both in-home and in school settings. Though she is predominantly focused on the utilization of Applied Behavior Analysis in treating individuals with disabilities, Emily enjoys examining topics such as religion, medicine, politics, and social constructs, through a behavioral lens. You can contact her at [email protected].

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1 Comment on "If a behavior analyst rewrote classic literature."

  1. I love your behavioral twist on these classics! Fun article!

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