Pavlov and High-Tech Appliances

You’ve likely heard of Pavlov’s dog, but what was Pavlov’s theory really all about, and how does it relate to you as you move through life in our modern era? Perhaps disconcertingly, what Pavlov called “classical conditioning” is more relevant than ever in our day and age, especially given the way that our technological appliances have become so closely threaded into our lives.

Classical conditioning as Pavlov defined it is a reflexive or automatic type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus. Pavlov demonstrated that this process occurred and could potentially be made to happen on purpose through the research he conducted in the early 20th century.

These ideas are based on the existence of different kinds of learning, the most relevant of which is called associative learning. Associative learning occurs when a person makes a new association between events in the environment in which he or she lives. There are two forms of associative learning called classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

dog shikFamously, Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment in which the feeding schedule of particular dogs was paired with the ringing of a bell. After some time of this, Pavlov found that he could trigger the dogs’ salivation simply be sounding the bell. Through this discovery, Pavlov found that a neural stimulus that was not originally associated with triggering salivation was ultimately wedded with the physical response, proving that stimulus-response bonds (considered by some as the basic building blocks of learning) can be formed in such a way. The unconditioned stimulus (meat powder) triggered the dogs’ salivation, which constituted an unconditioned response. The bell became a conditioned stimulus that triggered the salivation, or conditioned response.

So how does that process affect human beings in our era? Doubtless it affects them in a myriad of ways, but perhaps one of the simplest and most widespread examples of this phenomenon distinct to our era would be the text, Facebook notification, or other form of pop-up sound or image that notifies a person that something has changed in terms of their virtual presence.

fb stockWhile texts and phone calls are plenty distracting, notifications in either form are signs that a person has made a genuine effort to reach out to another party directly. This is immensely helpful, through there are of course people who use the technology in a way that’s unhealthy.

Perhaps the more disturbing cases are those tethered to social media, when notifications are meant to make noises and trigger bright lights once found solely in casinos. The beeps and whistles of these signs have been shown to light up reward centers for the people who receive them as they seem like indicators of social well-being and interest. However, more and more often notifications are unrelated to the actual social media account user, or are notifications of very shallow and uninteresting changes in the person’s account. At the end of the day, they’re meant to be addictive more than they’re meant to deliver social satisfaction.


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