Would Skinner say Elmo is Vain? (Updated)

DNP (Did Not Play): Weird Wednesday ABA Style

Yes I really wanted to post my Weird Wednesday stuff but I feel that I should post this instead. The EO of sending this post out is stronger than the EO for continuing my WW card streak (so I pulled the didn’t-play-didn’t-count trick again… since I was previously reinforced… at least I think I was). But then I also started something nerdy/geeky/silly here: I kinda put two movie quotes in this post. Can you spot them? So I say, leave the card, take the character.

Character Matters

Elmo Live
Elmo loves to talk about Elmo (Photo credit: nickstone333)

I was thinking about ideas for blog posts and I thought of analyzing different movies characters in a humorous (ABA inside joke kinda)… so the new category, Character DIY (Diagnose and Intervene Yourself) was born! I am using the word “diagnose” loosely here; what I mean is more like a description of the behavior(s)… it’s MY blog, so deal with it! Suggestions welcome though… Anyway, then a friend of mine suggested me to write about characters from kid shows, say… Elmo… ELMO!

Oh yeah! That little red monster who just LOVES LOVES LOVES to talk about himself! So forgive me if you are a big Elmo fan (or someone you love is) but it is quite interesting that the little monster always refers to himself as Elmo (not “I”). For some reason, I thought Karl Malone and Hulk Hogan did/do that too but I couldn’t find anything to support my thinking online (not even the almightly, technically-I-can-just-edit-it-to-any-way-I-like-it Wikipedia can bail me out here) but I did find this on a search… and hey guess who is on the list? ELMO!

Diagnosis: Automatic Reinforcement

In Dr. Mark Sundberg’s training on Automatic Reinforcement in 2005, (which you can take a look, by clicking here,or just simply Google something like “Mark Sundberg automatic reinforcement” or related search words, and the first PPT should be it), he noted Skinner (whom is pretty much Yoda to us) used the term over 100 times in Verbal Behavior (and if you want to read it, you can go here). There are two kinds of automatic reinforcement: practical and artistic/autistic and two kinds of behaviors: verbal and nonverbal (which makes a total of 4 combinations: verbal practical, nonverbal practical, verbal artistic/autistic, and nonverbal artistic/autistic)  Since I am talking about Elmo, I will just focus on verbal artistic/autistic. For the other 3 types, Dr. Sundberg gave plenty of examples and I am not even going to reinvent the wheel, just go with his stuff, people! (Parsimony, anyone?)

R = SR+???

Behaviors that go under the Verbal Artistic/Autistic category often function and reinforce itself. For example, humming, singing, matching someone’s accents or intonations, quoting movie lines (which I am pretty good at), and so forth. Skinner (1957) listed a few examples and this one was just tailored for our little red furry monster friend:

The vain man is reinforced by hearing or seeing his name, and he speaks or writes it frequently (Skinner, 1957, p. 165)

Elmo refers to himself as Elmo, Elmo likes to tell you what Elmo likes, Elmo likes to ask you to hug Elmo…

You get the idea. So do you think Elmo is vain?

Intervention Plan: NCR + Planned Ignore + Shaping

Now we nailed the target behavior, let’s come up with an intervention plan. I recommend using non-contingent reinforcement (NCR, also called Response Independent Reinforcement, and other names), planned ignore, and shaping for Elmo’s self-referencing behavior. We will provide Elmo attention, and tangibles in a fixed time schedule, that way he will be less likely motivated to engage in the target behavior. Also we will ignore all of Elmo’s mands (demands and request) whenever Elmo refers to himself as Elmo… yes I am putting “Elmo” on extinction. Of course, that comes with an extinction burst, which Elmo is going to increase his self-referencing behavior before he runs out of “Elmo” and we must not give “Elmo” any attention. “Elmo-ing” will go down after the spike, hold the fort we must! Meanwhile, we will shape Elmo to refer to himself as “I” as well. Initially I thought differential reinforcement of other behavior (DRO) would work but then I realized Elmo did not have any other functionally equivalent replacement behavior/response/word in his repertoire… so I made the switch. Do you think my plan will work? Do you think my plan fits the dimensions of ABA?

Help Me out!

This is my first (and long overdue) attempt on Character Diagnosis, so please show me some love and give me some comments, suggestions, advice on it, ya? Better I will do, the more feedback you give!

Shout out to Suzanne Ward, whom you can say hi here for her help, and of course Dr. Sundberg’s wonderful PowerPoint presentation on B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior! And forgive me for not doing the APA right, how about a little “you don’t need to see his references,… he can go about his business, move along!” huh?

May the desired consequence be with you!

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