Writing Prompts: Pavlovian

This was Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day back on the 26th of September. As is obvious by now, I am not playing by the rule of dates, so here we are, publishing this on the 16th of October. I’m such a rebel.

Pavlovian is derived from Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, a Russian psychologist who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1904. You may have heard of Pavlov’s bell experiment, in which he conditioned animals to expect food at the sound of a ringing bell.

This kind of behavioural training is present in much of our lives. It often comes up in school or work environments. In schools, a bell will ring to signify the start and end of a lesson, and in some workplaces, there will be something similar to signal lunchtime, or the end of the working day. In sports, a referee will blow a whistle to draw attention to a foul. These are subtle yet ever-present forms of conditioning. Indeed, it may (or may not) have a connection to the expression ‘play to the whistle’, which sometimes comes up in relation to sporting events.

Conditioning – for better or worse – can be found across various societies and cultures. Organised religion conditions us to believe certain things, and behave in certain ways. Society conditions us to live around a 9-5 working day (though if you work in retail, that goes out of the window fairly quickly). We’re often not aware of these manipulations upon us. A fascinating, if scary notion, no?

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