Mind control. Subliminal messages. These are the type of words one associates with science fiction, but these words may not seem so fictional when you learn what classical conditioning is.

Classical conditioning is a concept created by Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who would go on to be a Nobel Prize winner for his work. His research started as a study of the physiology of digestion and turned into one of the biggest discoveries of how organisms learn. Due to Pavlov's discoveries and the creation of a model of learning, humans have not only been able to understand learning more, but they also know how to manipulate learning too.

What is it?

Classical conditioning is a "form of learning in which animals come to respond to a previously neutral stimulus that had been paired with another stimulus that elicits an automatic response" (Lilienfeld). That is a mouthful.

So in a layman perspective, think of a woman progressing through an abusive relationship. In the beginning of the relationship when she saw the man (the neutral stimulus), she has no automatic response to seeing him, just a standard response she would have when meeting anyone new. However, as the relationship progresses the man begins to yell and act hostile (new stimulus) towards the woman. When the woman is yelled at she immediately feels fear and shivers (the automatic response).

When this repetition of yelling and fear happens over and over again, eventually just the sight of the man will make the woman fearful. This fear of just the sight of the man alone is the product of classical conditioning.

How does classical conditioning affect you?

The effects of classical conditioning can be seen everywhere and anywhere.

Phobias, aversions, and desires could all be products of classical conditioning. A lot of the time, classical conditioning can be accidental. However, a lot of the classical conditioning you experience can also be forced on to you without you even knowing.

Where can this exploitation be seen? A good example is TV commercials.

The point of a commercial is to sell you an item. They want to give you reasons to spend your money on their product. Normally one might think the only way to do that is to do all the persuasion in the commercial. However, advertisers use classical conditioning to where the influence of their product goes outside the TV screen.

A great commercial to reference would be the Old Spice commercial. One of the main ideas in an Old Spice pitch is that when you use their product, you will feel like a man. The scent of their product will make you more manly and attract pretty girls. The reason Old Spice never deviates from this message is they want their consumer to solidify the idea that Old Spice makes you manly.

So when you're not watching a commercial but you're in a situation where you want to feel more manly and pick up girls, you'll think of getting Old Spice. The goal is to classically condition you into automatically wanting to get Old Spice to feel like a man.

Advertisers and marketers do this to direct your mind into what to buy. However, forced classical conditioning is not just something companies use to make a profit. Governments, the military, parents, forms of classical conditioning is everywhere and it makes you wonder... what actions and thoughts are actually yours?