This section of the playground will feature fun ways to experiment with your productivity using conditioning methods. Conditioning is a broad psychological technique that’s pretty ancient, meant to train your brain to do certain things without thinking about it. This could include having certain reactions to certain stimuli, or have certain thought processes or behave a certain way in a certain circumstance.
It can be used for a variety of practical applications in psychology and also happens naturally in life, such as erasing someone’s phobia, creating an aversion to a certain food after getting terrible food poisoning from the dish, causing someone to automatically perform a certain action every time they hear a certain sound, fading parts of someone’s bad memories, teaching a child that there are consequences if they bite another child, associating certain scents or songs with certain years of one’s life, and more.
Using conditioning to rewire parts of your brain’s reactions and thought-processes can be a unique, fun way to improve many areas of productivity, including memory, work-speed, time-management, reaction time, and alertness, just to name a few. You’ll find that conditioning can help you work around some of the blocks that the brain can place in our way. This column will feature ways to use conditioning to achieve different things. Many things can help us to form useful associations, but conditioning just seeks to create these associations in the brain fully intentionally, so that you can use a sleight of hand to tip things in your favor.
This first column will provide a refresher-course for the world of conditioning--what it is, some definitions and context, a bit of history, and some common examples. It’s often studied in high school and college psychology classes, but with all the moving-parts, the finer details can be easily forgotten if it has been a while, and a basic yet thorough review will help you to better control your own results.
There are many types of conditioning, all differing by the way they achieve the desired action of the subject [that’s you in this case]. Some systems involve a reward-and-punishment method, and the subject uses trial and error before the brain automatically goes to the desired action. These systems differ among themselves as well, with the punishments varying from taking away nice things from the subject [i.e. a meal], giving bad things to the subject [i.e. a rotten meal], adding time to isolation-time, etc.
Some more complicated forms of conditioning involve using more than 2 factors or stimuli to cause desired actions, conditioning designed solely to get the subject to tell when a certain amount of time has passed without looking at a clock, and covert conditioning designed specifically for healing mental disorders.
For the purposes of this column, the vast majority of the features will use a simpler version, called classical conditioning.
Classical conditioning is the process of creating a very strong memory of a sequence of two unrelated stimuli. The goal is to make the association so strong that even if the first stimulus [Conditioned Stimulus] is presented on its own, the subject will have a reaction as if the second stimulus [Unconditioned Stimulus] was actually present. The first stimulus serves as a signal to the brain that the second stimulus is coming, even if it isn’t actually. This causes the subject to have a specific reaction to the Conditioned Stimulus, hence the name. The desired reaction that results is the Conditioned Response.
Here’s an example: The most cited experiments were run by Ivan Pavlov, the scientist who discovered classical conditioning. While working on another experiment, the scientist began trials in which he rang a bell, then immediately served food to the dogs, after which they would salivate and consume the food. Eventually he noticed the dogs would salivate at the ringing of the bell, before any food was presented. The dogs’ brains had become trained to believe that every time the bell rang, it would be followed by dinner, and they acted accordingly, even when there was no dinner. In this case, the bell would be the CS, the food the US, and the salivating the CR.
Seems simple enough? It can be, but there are several factors that impact the success of any conditioning experiment, such as number/frequency of trials, eliminating interfering/outside variables, something called a zero contingency procedure, to some extent the willingness of the subject [you], general feasibility, ability to repeat trials identically, etc.
Join us next time, dear friend, to condition yourself to change your state of consciousness from groggy to invigorated in 60 seconds no matter where you are, what you’re doing, or what time of day it is--no coffee, no extreme exercise, no artificial means. Feel free to write in your initial questions, special requests or comments to me!
Love, the Busy Pinata