Classical conditioning is one of my favorite psychological concepts. Most of us are familiar with Pavlov’s dogs who were conditioned to salivate at the ring of a bell. But the concept goes beyond dogs and bells.

Classical conditioning is essentially learning by association. In psychology there’s a saying: What wires together, fires together. An association between two (or more) neural pathways gets created and then reinforced by repetition.

This concept is used a lot in marketing. Whenever a celebrity endorses a product, the marketers hope that you will link positive feelings to the product. Or when a company sponsors your favorite team’s game, they hope that the positive emotions you experience during the game will spread to their brand.

Of course, classical conditioning happens spontaneously as well (without anyone trying to influence you).

Here are some examples:

Aversion to an alarm ringtone. The romantic feeling that you get when you go to the place where you’ve met your romantic partner for the first time. The dislike of the sound of the drill at the dentist’s office. The nostalgia triggered by the smell of the perfume your mom wore when you were a kid.

In some of the previous blog posts, we talked about a couple of examples of classical conditioning in the workplace: the unfortunate tendency to remain in the state of anxiety at work, expecting urgent problems to arise after a series of incidents happen and intuitive inclination to automatically disregard your boss’s praise if it’s commonly followed by criticism.

There are positive work-related examples as well. Unlimited snacks, foosball table, the furniture that creates a pleasant, homelike atmosphere, can all make people like the job more. However, like in many other situations, the relationship with our jobs is very complex and there are other, more conscious factors, that obviously play a significant role in determining our attitudes and behaviors.