Don’t become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin.

-Ivan Petrovich Pavlov

I just studied Pavlovian Conditioning (Classical Conditioning) in a bid to see how it applies to us; the species at the top of the brain chain. It’s very interesting to see that classical conditioning as a form of learning plays a very important role in human development. It’s no news that our conditioning and habits determine most of our actions and thought processes. What is interesting to me is how these habits are formed. Habits are learned, it may even be argued that phobias are learned. My question is: how do we learn our habits and behavior? Is it Nurture or Nature? or are there other factors involved that we may not be aware of?

In 1902, Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment to measure salivation in dogs. He made an astonishing discovery, after a while, his dogs salivated before being given their food. The dogs had associated food with other events such as seeing his lab assistant, or him entering the room and salivated all the same. Pavlov then conditioned the dogs to salivate at the ring of a bell by ringing the bell anytime he’s about to feed them. Pavlov’s dogs then salivated at the ring of a bell even without the presence of food, cos they anticipated the bell precedes food.

How does all this matter to us. If you think you are not a largely conditioned robot, think again. When was the last time you felt thirsty after seeing an empty bottle, or salivated at the sight of a food wrapper? You guessed right.

Unfortunately, response to classical conditioning is involuntary, a lotta times it even happens while we’re unaware. I still feel very sleepy at the sight of my bed even if I just had coffee or lotsa sugar. Being aware though is a step in the right direction. It may be impossible to stop the cravings, but it’s very possible to control your actions. Guess what? There’s a stage in classical conditioning called extinction. Pavlov realized that after a while the dogs stopped to salivate if the ring of the bell is not followed by food.

What all these mean to us is that we can take control of our actions, and even go a step further to understand our triggers and properly prepare for them. I believe good self-awareness is one of the best ideals anyone can strive for. Notice your automatic responses to several situations and let me know your discoveries in the comments below.