Hello, and welcome to your graduate course titled “The Pavlov Reflex and its Application in Everyday Life”. Oh no, put away your pens, it’ll be quiet. We start with a little reminder of what the Pavlovian reflex is and then roll my hen.
I’ll give it to you in a simple and quick version, so you don’t waste time: at the end of the 19th century, the Russian doctor Ivan Pavlov noticed that his dog was salivating when you showed him food, and that gave him a idea. He rang a bell each time he fed his dog, to associate the sound of the bell with the arrival of food. Then, one day, he just rang the bell, without bringing any food, and the dog salivated, because he was expecting food. The dog had been conditioned to salivate upon hearing the sound of the bell. That’s Pavlov’s reflex, or conditioning: we react to a neutral stimulus because we have associated it with something else.
Well, we could have gone into a little more detail, but for that there’s a whole bunch of very cool books available everywhere. In the meantime, we will rather see that Pavlov’s reflexes, we have them every day of our lives.
1. When music makes you feel like you’re on vacation
You’ve all had “holiday music”, a song you’ve listened to all summer long, alone or with your friends, while drinking, playing pétanque or rolling with your windows open in the middle of lavender fields. Well when you hear that song again in another setting, like in the office, stuck in your open space, next to your sniffling colleague, you can feel like you’re on vacation again, because you’ve conditioned your brain to associate this music to vida loca, mojitos and sandy beaches. It’s quite silly. Yet you are fine in this ugly room and your boss is still waiting for you to give him the A32 file on the climate impact of rendering in Haute-Savoie. Go to work.
2. When someone has the same notification ringtone as you
When you’re with other people and one of them receives a notification with the same ringtone as yours, you instinctively reach for your phone. Normal: your brain has ended up associating the ringtone with the joy of receiving a notification (even if 9 times out of 10, the notification is just your mother telling you that she needs you to “fix the internet box” ). In short, there, you knew that the ringtone did not come from your phone, but your brain still wanted to grab it to check if there were no new notifications. It’s a Pavlov reflex.
3. When you have to urinate when you hear running water
We talked about it in things to know about urine: the urge to pee when you hear water flowing is a conditioning. In fact, the sound that urine makes at the bottom of the bowl has been associated with the pleasant sensation of relieving the bladder. Suddenly, when we hear this noise, coming for example from a fountain, we want to empty the cistern (to put it with poetry).
4. When advertising music makes you want to buy
Advertising has not been deprived of using conditioning to make us consume. One of his methods is to associate pleasant music, beautiful images or positive words with a brand. By dint of repetition, we will end up having positive thoughts when hearing the name of the brand or seeing its logo. Conditioning can simply alter our perception of things. It’s still quite annoying.
5. When a food makes you sick after having food poisoning
Imagine: you are eating whelks for the first time. It’s okay, it’s not too complicated to imagine. You think it’s good, but an hour later you’re having the food poisoning of your life, face to face with your toilet bowl. From that day on, whelks are over for you. You have associated them with disease, and their mere presence within 10 meters of your person will make you nauseous. Pavlovian reflex. Of course, some will manage to overcome this disgust, it depends on each one, but it is a pattern that we find very often.
6. When your body releases insulin by drinking diet sodas
Come on, let’s start with a biological example to show that conditioning is embedded even in the depths of our organism. It’s a bit technical, but it’ll be fine. When you drink a sugary soda, your body releases insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels. Until then, it makes sense, and it’s even pretty cool. The problem is that the body associates the sweet taste with this insulin secretion. As a result, when you drink a light soda – therefore without sugar, but with a sweet taste – the body still secretes insulin. It lowers the sugar level when one had not even received a sugar intake, because it has been conditioned to secrete insulin by smelling a sweet taste.
Consequence (even if it takes us a little out of our subject) drinking light sodas, it gives the slab, because our body needs to raise its blood sugar level, because it has secreted too much insulin. In short, stop the light sodas, and we move on.
7. When eating a food makes you feel like you’re on vacation
Now that you have understood the concept, it will be simple: imagine that you only eat oysters in summer, by the sea (while listening to Laurent Voulzy, but that is not mandatory). Well, if one day you exceptionally make yourself a platter of oysters in your apartment, in town, when you are not on vacation at all, part of you will nevertheless feel this pleasant feeling of being on vacation at the beach. It’s quite silly.
8. When you hear your alarm clock somewhere and it freaks you out.
Never set a song you like as a wake-up alarm. Why ? Because your body will associate the unpleasant feeling of a sudden awakening with this music. And afterwards, when you hear the intro of this same song on the radio or in your Spotify playlist, you will experience this feeling of unease again. What disgust you with a melody.
9. When stores play party music to make you buy
Festive music has long been associated with feelings of happiness. Normal, since you listen to them in cool moments when you party with the friends. But stores often take advantage of this: they play festive music when you go shopping, so you feel happy and you want to consume. They don’t miss a beat, these bastards.
10. When you develop a fear of dogs
People who are afraid of dogs have almost all had to deal with an aggressive dog that scared them at least once. After this traumatic experience, their brain associated the image of the dog with fear. Fortunately, we can all “cure” this kind of fear one day or another, for example by meeting a super nice dog who will come to modify our conditioning. In addition most of the big doggies are nice and cute all the way, that helps.
11. When you laugh before the hand even tickles you
That too, everyone has experienced it: someone tells you that he is going to tickle you and, even before his hand has reached your skin, you are laughing. All because you know that a hand approaching your ribs is normally followed by tickling. One more Pavlov reflex.
12. The Placebo Effect
There are still lots of examples of Pavlov’s reflexes in everyday life, but we’ll end on this: yes, the Placebo effect is a conditioning in the manner of Pavlov’s reflexes. So for starters, if you forgot what the Placebo effect was, take a look at the link, then come back here immediately. Its good ? Now you know.
The Placebo effect comes from a fairly simple conditioning. In medicine, we are used to the fact that drugs help us get better. Medoc has been associated with healing. So, when we are given a pill and told that it is a drug, we feel better after having ingested it, even though the pill did not contain any molecule intended to treat us. Of course, it won’t work for diseases that require real drug treatment, but you get the general idea.