Cold nights and curled up in front of the telly, a steaming hot mug of tea to warm me. Having a chat with a friend over tea. Or what about when you’re out in the cold- hand freezing- and you buy a cup of tea or coffee. Eager hands wrapped around that hot warmth of comfort. Ahh…bliss. It’s no wonder just the image of a hot drink instantly makes me feel happy as I have come to associate tea and coffee with these positive and cosy experiences.
Ever entered a hospital and started feeling anxious? Or went shopping and started feeling hungry? How about when you see someone who reminds you of someone your best friends with and you instantly like them. Of course, some of these examples may not apply to you. Even small things- like the sound of a wrapper unravelling can invoke all sorts of emotional responses within us through these associations. Conditioning is where we learn new behaviours thorough the process of ‘association’. Conditioning can explain how we would respond emotionally to what would be considered neutral stimuli. E.g. feeling anxious whilst driving past a hospital.
It’s important to note however, that our individual responses to such stimuli would vary as we all have different experiences. For example, the sound of unwrapping paper might produce a surge of excitement for someone who associated this sound with the unwrapping of sweets in their childhood whilst for another it might just be an annoyance or even quite a negative experience. Not everyone will respond in a similar manner to certain stimuli due to individual differences in personality traits and experiences.
A classic empirical example of conditioning would be Pavlov’s experiment involving dogs. Pavlov a physiologist, would present the sound of a bell each time he presented food to the dogs. The dogs eventually learned to associate the food with the sound of the bell and would salivate when the bell rang even when there was no food presented. The dogs has learnt to associate the sound of the bell with the anticipation of food. Therefore they learnt to associate the sound of the bell with food- regardless of whether any actual food was given.
Of course, using an experiment conducted on dogs to explain certain aspects of the human psyche is questionable, however the theory of conditioning has been replicated in various other studied using human participants. (Some which would be highly unethical) In addition, conditioning would explain why people may develop anxiety and phobias and why we may develop fears to towards certain events or objects that would normally be considered ‘neutral’ e.g. school, doctors, heights, animals, etc. For example, a person may develop a fear of dogs after being chased by a dog as a child. This fear might then be reinforced over time thorough various other vicarious means such as watching films depicting aggressive dogs, media, stories from friends and colleagues about dogs etc. this could potentially lead to a full blown phobia of dogs. Whilst he classical conditioning theory would support a nature perspective, it may clash with the ‘nature’ perspective which suggests that we may be evolutionally predisposed to respond to certain stimuli in a certain way as a result of the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response being activated to perceieved threats.
Whilst the conditioning theory may not account for every human behaviour, it certainly can help us to gain insight into the power of association and learned responses within human behaviour. When you think about it, a vast majority of how we respond to our experiences are a result of association and learning. For example, salivating before dinner time, feeling anxious when thinking of exams or the dreaded meeting at work, feeling excited when its Friday and the weekend is coming up, that feeling of awkwardness when you bump into an ex etc.
Ok. I get it- so most behaviour is learnt. So how can therapy help me?
If the majority of behaviour is learnt through a process of association, then it makes sense to assume that undesirable negative behaviour and habits can also be unlearnt. From feeling anxious when in a social situation (or any situation!) to smoking or addictions- hypnotherapy, with a combination of CBT, NLP and counselling skills can help a person to learn more favourable patterns of thinking. A lot of people may not even remember why they initially started engaging in a problem behaviour as most learning takes place unconsciously without us even realising. Hypnotherapy helps us to access the unconscious part of our mind so we can form more positive association of behaviour and create the desired changes.
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