Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

How Behavior Modification Has Polarized America

To save our union, we must focus on finding solutions that rest on common ground.

7 min readMay 1, 2022


My kids have taken a shine to the movie, Turning Red. It’s a rite of passage movie for girls. My girls have watched that movie over and over again. I’ve lost count. I’ve watched it with them a few times, too. But there was something about that movie I could not shake.

While I found the movie funny and moving, I noticed the prevalence of behavior modification throughout the movie. Scene after scene suggested that our nation lives on a steady diet of reward and punishment. That’s behavior modification.

I have come to believe that, more than anything else, behavior modification is the root cause of the division of our nation.

If you have not seen Turning Red yet, I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum. It’s a great Disney movie with plenty of comic gags, luscious cinematography for an animated film, and fantastic symbolism. It is a good reference for American culture. Here is the storyline from the Internet Movie Database:

Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang) is a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter — an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if changes to her interests, relationships and body weren’t enough, whenever she gets too excited (which is practically ALWAYS), she “poofs” into a giant red panda. — Disney/Pixar

There are scenes throughout the movie where punishment and aggression are depicted as norms. When Mei’s mother finds her notebook with drawings of her crush, her mother responds with shame and humiliation. When Mei discovers she turns into a giant red panda under stress, she worries that she will be shamed, so she hides her condition from her mother and her friends.

“You are in big trouble young lady”, and avoiding that trouble, is a common theme throughout the movie. “Big trouble” is behavior modification.

Behavior modification is a common feature of American entertainment. It saturates our news, movies, and TV. It has a huge…




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