Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How to you improve your life (Part 1 of 3)

How do you improve your life? Ask a Buddhist and the answer will probably be through practice and experience. Ask your family doctor and the answer will probably be "eat healthy and excersice". Ask yourself and what do you say?

In the realm of psychology you can change yourself through "conditioning", and there are only two methods. The first being known as "classical conditioning",
and the second as "operant conditioning".

I'll start off with classical conditioning.

I wish there was something classical about classical conditioning, but there really isn't. It came about when a Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, noticed that dogs salivate when they know they are going to eat. They don't call these guys geniuses for nothing. Unlike anyone else up to this time, Pavlov knew he was onto something. He knew that this behaviour can be an experiment. His experiment was really very simple. Train a dog to salivate when the dog hears a bell ring. Here's how he did it:

  1. Ring bell
  2. present food (dog eats)
  3. repeat cycle

As the dog begins to learn that bell=food he salivates more and more. Up to a certain degree. Here's how it looks on a graph

Psychologist love to make up words so there's also a few terms that I should explain.

  1. Neutral Stimulus (NS) - This is the bell at the beginning of the experiment. Its called Neutral stimulus because the bell on its own would not make the dog salivate, but its going to be used in the experiment.
  2. Unconditioned stimulus (US) and Unconditioned response (UR)- In other words this is a label that s ays "no training needed", and in this case the food is the US and the dog salivating when food is presented is the UR.
  3. Conditioned stimulus and Conditioned Response - The word conditioned here means "you're my bitch. Now do as I trained you". In this case, when the bell=salivation the bell becomes the CS, and the salivation as a result of the CS becomes the CR.

Of coarse the mind is not static, and therefore constantly changes so it should be no surprise to anyone that over time the CS can turn back into a NS. How? By ringing the bell without presenting food. Here's the graph again

and here's how most text books would present the information

In the first third of the graph, when the dog is being trained, it is called "Acquisition". When the level of training has reached a peak and levels off, like when the dog can't salivate any more then physically possible, it is called "Asymptote". When, in the third section it begins to unlearn the behaviour, it is called "extinction".

During the extinction phase it is possible to see a sudden reemergence of the learned behaviour, this is called "spontaneous recovery"...I told you these guys like making up words.

There's one more side effect of classical conditioning, and that's that the CS (the bell that makes the dog salivate) can evoke a similar response from similar stimuli....Basically a bell can be a door bell or a dinner bell or a cow bell (MORE COW BELL!) and the CR would be the same. This is called "generalization". If other stimuli like clapping for instance, is not a generalization of the CS then it is said that there is a "discrimination" between stimuli. Just replace the word "discrimination" with "difference", cause that's all this term means.

How does this apply to you?

Lets say that every time you see your bf/gf the first thing you do is kiss, and that makes you feel good.

What will happen is that if you do this enough times you will begin to feel good in anticipation of seeing him/her, but if you stop kissing when you see him or kissing him no longer feels good then you will not feel so good when you anticipate seeing him/her.

In other words your expectation automatically influence your emotions, and your learned behaviours are automatically acquired and extinct using classical conditioning, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Now that you know this, use this knowledge to uncondition yourself from bad habits and condition yourself into good ones.

Thanks for reading,
  1. digg it! if you like what you read
  2. Give examples of classical conditioning from your own life, please add them into the comments section, no matter how simple they are.
Look out for my next post which will be operant conditioning


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