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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Am I conditioned to be late?

Today I was late for work. I was late yesterday. I am late everyday. I was 30 minutes late on Wednesday.

As I drove to work this morning, realising I would be at least 10 minutes late (the reason being I had to scrape the ice off my car) I mused on the topic. Why don’t I get stressed out when I’m late, again?

My musings led me to think about operant conditioning, and Pavlov’s dogs.

Now, for those of you who were fortunate enough not to study psychology at some point in your life, here is a little introduction to Pavlov and his dogs. (I say fortunate because even though I love it, psychology has fucked me up irreparably. I know too much and too little about the internal workings of the mind. It drives me mad. I analyse myself, badly, and come to unsettling conclusions. I think about stuff like classical conditioning when I drive to work. Who does that!?)

Back to the point. Ivan Pavlov was a physiologist who originally intended to study dogs drooling. I don’t know how that went, but in the process he discovered a phenomenon now called operant conditioning.

I’m not sure if Pavlov was a nice man, he was not nice to dogs (they say serial killers start off torturing animals…). He rigged up several different experiments the involved tricking, fooling and electrocuting dogs in some way. The famous study I will describe involved electrocution.

Pavlov constructed a box, in which he put a dog. One half of the floor of the box was conductive, the other half wasn’t. He stood the dog on the conductive half and flipped the switch. The dog jumped off the conductive side onto the non conductive side to avoid the shock. Result: dog learns to move to avoid shock.

As I said, Pavlov did not like dogs, so next he put a wall in the box separating the conductive and non conductive halves. He put the dog on the conductive side and flipped the switch. The dog panics, I imagine it yelped in pain, it tries to get off the conductive surface – but can’t because of the wall.

Pavlov does this a couple of few times cause he’s a sadist.
He then takes the wall away.

Pavlov again puts the dog on the conductive half. He flips the switch. The dog doesn’t move. It stays there, even though it can stop the shock by moving onto the non conductive side. The dog has given up. It has been conditioned not to try and escape because it was shocked so many times in the box with the wall stopping him moving.

Sad story, poor dog, but what’s the point?

The point is, have I been conditioned to stop trying to get to work on time because I never get to work on time? Have I given up hope of this ever happening because no matter what I do it just doesn’t work?

Will that excuse fly at (an inevitable) formal review of my tardiness?

For the real story on Pavlov, and not just what I can remember having done bugger all research, please do not google operant conditioning and find nothing about this study so making it look like I made it up.


Joel said...

Actually, you want to google "classical conditioning" for what Pavlov did.

Pavlov's most famous experiment involved a bell. Pavlov noticed that he could train a dog to salivate by ringing a bell at dinner time. Doggies got all excited. Then Pavlov rang the bell without feeding them and they still salivated.

I think the experiments you mentioned might have been conducted by B.F. Skinner.

When I dared to work, I was clinically late myself. Awful place that I worked at, however. Perhaps you feel unchallenged by your job or imprisoned?

Damn, I'm no therapist....I just hope you figure out this puzzle.

TP said...

I do want to change jobs. But that's mainly because I am too lazy to get up so early and drive for 45 - 60 minutes to a small no hope town to sit in an underground bunker and work with people who have no idea how to communicate with one another, and a boss who huffs and puffs all day like a dragon.

Ideally I would like to get the job I applied for a week or so ago, the office is about 10 minutes away from my house on foot, and I think it involves taking people on walks around the countryside.


TP said...

I had a sneaking suspicion Skinner had done the electric shock experiments. But being a lazy arse I didn't bother to check beyond typing "Pavlov" and "dogs" into google and reading the first paragraph of the first result. It had nothing to do with the experiments I wanted to talk about, but for some reason that didn't stop me.

Skinner was a nasty piece of work too, keeping rats awake until they died.

Don't tell me that was someone else too...

TP said...

Oh mullet wig - I have an interview.

Now I have to tell my boss...

yclepta said...

wow I really relate to this so much - I am hardly ever on time - and I hate myself for it - but the stress doesn't make me be on time - I think it's because there is no real penalty for being late - apart from pissing a few people off sometimes and I think that they should loosen up....