Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cognitive Bias: Conditioning (and I don't mean your hair)

Conditioning, i.e. Pavlovian conditioning, is a simple training of a mind to associate stimulus, and response. It is the way we learn ANYTHING, and it is used by people both good and bad.

If you don't remember Pavlov, he's the guy who did the dog experiment. The dog is fed, but before they are fed, they are always subject to this ringing bell. After a while, the dogs are salivating just at the ringing bell, not the actual food.

Humans are exactly the same way, except our "stimulus" (input) and "response" (output) is somewhat more complex. Our conditioning can be at a more "subconscious" level that we may not recognize it without deeper analysis. One example is the placebo effect, where the body learned to medicate itself (usually for pain relief) without the use of actual drugs or surgery.

Scams and cults use conditioning to have you believe that whatever the "leader" said must be true, and you are not to question whatever the leader said.

To put it plainly, conditioning is you learned to produce a certain expected "response" when you receive a certain "stimulus". You associated stimulus with the appropriate response. When the leader says jump, you jump, you don't even ask how high.

In scams, the leaders are always ready to cultivate the image that the leader always speaks the truth, and you can trust ANYTHING they say. And of course, there will be several demonstrations, and witnesses, and so on and so forth. After a couple personal experiences, you'll believe that he'd NEVER lie to you or anyone else. You have been conditioned.

The head of Zeek Ponzi Paul Burks, is quoted many times to have said, "In my 15 years in business, I always pay my people on time, and I have never missed a paycheck."  That is, until now, when RVG was closed by SEC as a Ponzi and all employees are not getting paid.  He carefully cultivated his image of long-time business man, always takes care of "his people", paid money on time, and so on. Only later did the facts emerge: that he's a trained magician and performer who knows how to trick people.

And once you are tricked enough times, you actually would believe the trick is real.

So how *do* you understand conditioning, and how it's being used on you? Skepticism, of course. Read "between" the lines. Do the leader's words actually make sense? Do they fit REALITY? Are there alternate explanations? Do they really mean that his words can be trusted? Or are the demonstrations merely "staged"?

Beware of someone conditioning you so you react a certain way to his or her "stimulus".

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