Most people are aware of the term ‘conditioning.’ It may have been heard, or seen, in a conversation, in the media, a television program, or, in a high school or college classroom.
Conditioning may seem to be a rather unremarkable word, however, the importance of it, is far more impacting than one might expect, especially when we take a look at its definition, and some of the dynamics that are involved with it. Generally speaking, conditioning may be defined as, “…a process for changing behavior.”
The Dalai Lama, in one of his articles, wrote, “Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous…,” and with his words in mind, it would seem there is much more to ‘conditioning,’ than may first meet the eye.
In researching conditioning, we find there are several types, which may also be known by several different names. Their commonality is, that each and every one of them is designed to change behavior, in one way or another.
Aspects of Conditioning
Classical conditioning, also known as Pavlovian conditioning, is a process in which there is a ‘stimulus,’ that was previously ‘neutral,’ as in the sound of a bell, that over time, comes to elicit a particular response, such as salivation in a dog.
Pavlov, in the early 20th century, demonstrated that if you show a dog food, the dog will salivate. If you then ring a bell, at the same time the food is presented, and repeat it often enough, the dog will eventually start salivating from the sound of the bell, without any food present. This phenomenon is not just reserved for dogs, but humankind may be conditioned in this manner, as well. The ‘key’ here, and as we shall see a bit later on, is repetition. Thus, repetition may be induced on a subject, as well as on oneself.
• Food (presented at several trials)
American psychologist John B. Watson took a little orphan boy, Albert, and gave him a pet white rat. After a short while Albert became fond of his new pet and spent a lot of his day playing with it. Watson began his experiment, in classical conditioning, by banging some pots, loudly, behind Albert; this startled the boy and made him cry. The loud noise shocked the boy so much that it brought forth a ‘fear’ factor which had not been present, in Albert, before.
Watson then went on to bring out Albert’s rat, and banged the pots as Albert reached for his pet. After many exposures to the loud banging, in conjunction with Watson bringing in the rat, Albert started to cry when he saw the white rat. The boy had begun to associate the loud noise with the rat. Watson then went on to bring in a white bunny, or anything that was similar to the white rat, bang the pots, and the result was the same. In this manner, Watson created a phobia in a human that hadn’t been present before, through the use of classical conditioning techniques.
American psychologist, B. F. Skinner, a behaviorist and social philosopher, developed Operant Conditioning. Operant Conditioning is a method, of learning, that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior. Or, behaviors that are reinforced in a positive way will tend to continue, while behaviors that are punished will eventually end.
Subliminal Stimulation or Persuasion
This was first described and published back in 1897 by E.W. Scripture, and called ‘subliminal messages,’ but they really didn’t become controversial until about 1957, when adverting companies and marketers, began to laud the potential use of subliminal stimulation, in persuasion, to attract business clients.
Subliminal Stimulation is to use text, images, or sound, to present a message that is presented quickly enough to be registered by the sensory organs and the first brain areas, but too fast to be consciously recognized.
Dr. Bahador Bahrami, of the University College London (UCL) Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Psychology, says,
“What’s interesting here is that your brain does log things that you aren’t even aware of, and can’t ever become aware of. We show there is a brain response in the primary visual cortex to subliminal images that attract our attention — without us having the impression of having seen anything. These findings point to the sort of impact that subliminal advertising may have on the brain.”
A recent form of ‘subliminal stimuli’ is the practice of hiding things in plain sight, like product placement in films and TV shows. It’s not clear, as yet, whether these subliminals might influence someone to purchase or do something, but they are likely to be taken in unconsciously and contribute to simple name recognition. There is more to follow on the The Power of the Subliminal.
This is also a type of conditioning that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community, or group of people, toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an issue. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes. Propaganda may be also used as a form of political warfare.
Mind Control also known as Brain Washing
A definition of brainwashing, or mind control, is a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up their basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes, and to accept contrasting regimented ideas.
“While it’s pretty unlikely that you’re a target of deliberate brainwashing,
it is likely that you’re subject to some of the common techniques
associated with the less-than-ethical practice.”
From the article, Brainwashing Techniques You Encounter Every Day (and How to Avoid Them), by Adam Dachis.
Hypnosis has been around for quite a long time. James Braid first described it, circa 1843, as “as a state of physical relaxation accompanied and induced by mental concentration.” It has also been said, that ‘all’ hypnosis is ‘self-hypnosis,’ as the person being hypnotized must be amenable to what is going on in the process.
Hypnosis has been the subject of many individuals who have been involved with it, from the perspective of the ‘hypnotist,’ to that of the ‘subject.’ In an article from Penn State the topic of hypnosis is addressed in the article, Probing Questions: Does hypnosis Work?
Addictions may include, but are not limited to, alcohol, the computer, drug abuse, eating, exercise, pornography, gambling, et cetera. Classic hallmarks of addiction include: impaired control over substances/behavior, preoccupation with substance/behavior, or the continued use of something despite consequences, and denial.
Habits and patterns associated with addiction are typically characterized by immediate gratification (short-term reward), coupled with delayed deleterious effects (long-term costs). Physiological dependence occurs when the body has to adjust to a substance by incorporating the substance into its ‘normal’ functioning.
‘Repetition,’ ‘habits,’ and ‘patterns’ seem to all have a common element to the various ways one may be conditioned. The effects of repetition, on the public, are massive and have been researched with the main findings being, that one may substitute the words advertising, education, propaganda, hypnosis, sound bite, addictive behaviors, et cetera within the frame of reference of conditioning. Once a person realizes how manipulated or conditioned he or she may be, it then becomes the responsibility of that person to either find ways of removing the conditioning, or allowing it to continue to function in one’s life.
Frank T. Williams, in his article, Break the Conditioning, writes, “I’m fired up! To think that all of our ancestors, no matter what their skin color is, fought and died for what little freedom we do have in this country. Stop the conditioning!”
So, then the question becomes, “How does one stop being conditioned?”
The answer is to ‘break’ the repetitions, break the patterns and become aware of the various forms of conditionings that are out there, and may be found in advertising, addictive behavior, propaganda, subliminals, et cetera. Is it easy to break conditioned behavior? It depends on the individual, and this is where ‘extinction’ comes in.
It has been shown that conditioned behaviors, may eventually become extinct if they are not maintained or reinforced. An example of this is, if one cannot stay off a computer or iPhone, and continually gives in to using them, the behavior will be maintained. However, by taking time away from them the ‘need’ to be occupied may be minimized, and eventually eradicated. This is called natural extinction.
Gretchen Reynolds writes,
“What happens to a mind in constant motion?
…non-stop engagement changes how the brain processes
information, and in some cases changes the brain itself.”
from The Outside Rx: Temper Your Screen Time.
There are self-help articles and books available for a person who wants to change any negative behavioral patterns, or conditionings, that one may have. However, if one does not seem to be making progress from self-help material, then it is advisable to find a professionally licensed psychologist, social worker, or counselor. This is the one life we have to live, this time around, so the more healthy, aware, and well-balanced that life is, the better. Let’s not live our lives from one ring of the bell to the next.
2012 Roger Allen Baut
Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies, 1989.
(psychology and history major,
political science minor. Graduated
with departmental honors, and Cum Laude)
Master of Science in Counseling, 1993.