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The Sound of Science - 'Classical Conditioning'

Welcome to The Sound of Science on WNIJ. Our program is not always about the physics of acoustics in music. Sound has a vast effect on science and society alike.  

Have you ever seen a commercial for a restaurant where they have close-ups of juicy steaming delectable foods and your mouth starts to water?  Or you think, I can have a burger for an early dinner? Commercials and ads employ a psychological tactic called classical conditioning.

You might have heard of classical conditioning before, but you might have heard it in a different context. Classical conditioning was inadvertently discovered by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian researcher in the early 1900’s who was studying digestion. He collected and measured the saliva produced by his dog during response to food, but he noticed that his dog began to drool if Ivan merely walked through the door. He later experimented on his dog by combining a different stimulus with the presence of food. Simply he would ring a bell, feed the dog, and measure the saliva. Ring the bell, feed the dog, and measure saliva... 

After weeks of this, he would ring the bell, and measure saliva, but he didn't bring any food in. He only combined the stimulus of a bell with the stimulus of food to recreate the automatic physiological response.

Dogs aren't the only animals susceptible to classical conditioning.  

Classical conditioning later led to the discovery of operant conditioning, which parents and teachers are more familiar with. With operant conditioning, you reward positive behaviors as they happen, and punish negative behaviors. Classical conditioning is also found in medical research. Patients taking a placebo medication are conditioned to believe that the pill they’re taking can relieve symptoms.

Do you think you’re immune to this conditioning? There is plenty of research in consciously blocking conditioning. Every 30 seconds, we’ve been playing this sound in the background; be honest, how many times did you think about checking your phone in the past two minutes?

This is The Sound of Science.  I’m Sam Watt, and you’re listening to WNIJ, where you learn something new every day.