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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

THE PAVLOVIAN EFFECT IN POLITICS

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who is best remembered for his work on "conditioned reflex" in the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century. His work was primarily concerned with modifying behavior based on repetitive conditioning. His experiments are still well known, particularly with dogs where he observed they began to salivate the moment food was introduced, but he also performed similar experiments on children with similar success. Pavlov's work was well regarded by the young Soviet government, including Lenin who saw the value of his experiments. His behavioral research led to such things as memory implantation and brainwashing.

Pavlov may be long gone but his work is very much a part of our lives today. To illustrate, if you use the expression, "The rich should pay their fair share of taxes," some people instantly assume the rich have been cheating the government, that they are misers (and bad people), and should be coerced to pay more than they currently do as punishment. Trying to persuade people otherwise is futile. They do not think about the statement; instead it is simply an image stamped on their mind that they have been conditioned to act on instantly. "Trickle down economics" is a similar political catch phrase that generates a similar response. People don't know what it really means, whether it is a valid concept or not, but they have been conditioned to believe it is evil.

A similar phenomenon occurs when people accuse the Tea Party of racism. Consequently, the masses develop a conditioned response that all Tea Partiers are racists. The fact there are people of all colors and denominations in the Tea Party is immaterial to those indoctrinated like Pavlov's dog.

A lot of this is fostered by the media who has the ability to transmit selected images and sound bites over and over again until it becomes second nature to their audience. The media is also the self-appointed Political Correctness (PC) police. If a word is deliberately or accidentally misspoken, said out of context or does not conform to the current rules of political correctness, the audience is stunned by the statement and the speaker is savagely assaulted by the PC police. For example, if you use the word "homosexual" instead of "gay", you are instantly labeled a "homophobe" or "hate monger." As an aside, I find it amusing to see a Hollywood movie from the 1930's where people openly admit they had a "gay" time at a party last night (I'll bet they didn't know homosexuals were invited).

The disturbing part of the Pavlovian effect in American politics is that you are guilty until proven innocent, and in most cases it is impossible to clear your name as the public has these preconceived notions indelibly stamped on their psyche. You cannot argue or have logical discourse with such people as their responses have been conditioned by endless media and political spin.

We now live in an age of sound bites and brief images which people are more inclined to grasp than to seek the truth. They're small, they're simple, and easy to digest. If said or shown repetitively via the media, the audience will be conditioned to salivate on queue.

I seriously doubt our forefathers could survive in the 21st century. There is no doubt people like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln would be chewed up and spit out by the politics of today. As for someone like Mark Twain or Will Rogers, who spoke candidly about social conditions in our country, they would no doubt be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.


Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com


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