Pavlov’s dogs live on in loaded terms

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Like many great scientific advances, classical conditioning was discovered accidentally.

During the 1890s Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed, when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food.

Pavlov (1902) started from the idea that there are some things that a dog does not need to learn. For example, dogs don’t learn to salivate whenever they see food. This reflex is hard-wired into the dog. In behaviorist terms it is an unconditioned response (i.e., a stimulus-response connection that required no learning). Pavlov showed the existence of the unconditioned response by presenting a dog with a bowl of food and the measuring its salivary secretions

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However, when Pavlov discovered that any object or event which the dogs learned to associate with food (such as the lab assistant) would trigger the same response, he realized that he had made an important scientific discovery, known today as Pavlovian conditioning. Accordingly, he devoted the rest of his career to studying this type of learning.

Fast forward a century. Consider a host of modern-day social engineers — media outlets, religions, political groups. (Are we salivating yet?) Consider this list of familiar coded trigger words used by social engineers — terrorist, patriot, human rights, abortion, national interest, green, hero, poverty, American dream, feed the world, gay, capitalize, free will, socialist, climate change, immigration, smart bomb, veteran, taxes, freedom, conservative, liberal …

Best end it there. I wouldn’t want to dehydrate the masses, those billions of drooling “dogs” with media devices strapped to their paws, hyperventilating while waiting for another seductive meal from clever masters during experimentation, better known as New World Order.

Pavlov attempted to educate us on the human condition, to become aware of social-psychological tools and traps. It’s unfortunate great numbers of humans appear content spending their lives in social engineering lab experiments. Pavlov’s dogs live.


Patrick Cunningham

Twin Lakes