Since I came to Penn State, I’ve definitely been around more cigarettes as I walk around campus. Usually happened when I leave the library, someone is smoking outside the revolving door, and I end up breathing in the smoke. Naturally, I cough after I breathe in the smoke, but soon enough I was coughing as soon as I saw a lit cigarette in front of me. I would walk out the revolving door and see someone smoking and cough right away, and at first I thought something was wrong with me. Why was I coughing, even when I hadn’t inhaled any smoke yet? I had always wondered how to explain this, but it was finally cleared up when we learned about classical conditioning in class.
Classical conditioning is a type of learning where we connect the association of two (or more) uncontrolled stimuli. In my mind, I was connecting the sight of a lit cigarette with the smoke that causes me to cough. For this to work, you have to have something (an unconditioned stimulus – US) that naturally causes a response (unconditioned response – UR) and something (conditioned stimulus- CS) that has no impact on it’s own (conditioned response – CR). If the CS is interacted with right before the US enough times, then you eventually make the connection that the CS should lead to the US, and the US makes you naturally respond with the UR. If this happens enough, you start having the UR when you see the CS, and that reaction is the CR.
Basically, when I saw the lit cigarette (the CS), it would be followed by me breathing in the smoke right after (the US). Breathing in the smoke made me cough (the UR). This happened so frequently that I eventually associated the lit cigarette with coughing, so I started coughing as soon as a saw the lit cigarette (this is the CR). Even though seeing a lit cigarette shouldn’t make me cough, through classical conditioning I associate that stimulus with coughing.
A long time ago, my family visited my aunt and uncle over in Michigan. This was a little over a year after they had their baby girl, Cecelia (we called her Cece for short). Since Cece was my aunt’s first baby and my aunt wasn’t working at the time, she would spend all day with Cece. My aunt would play with her all the time, read her stories, get her snacks. If my aunt ever left Cece’s sight, then Cece would get upset and cry. One time, my aunt was returning a movie she rented and left the car to quickly give it back, Cece was looking around the car and began to cry. None of us quite understood why Cece was crying because we thought that Cece knew my aunt would be back eventually. I can’t remember if I did the same thing when I was that age (I probably did), but we couldn’t explain what was going on. My aunt thought maybe she had spent too much time with Cece and didn’t let her play on her own and she became too used to always having my aunt around. We weren’t too worried because we knew she would most likely outgrow it, and Cece did. After learning about object permanence in class, it sounds like that could’ve been the issue with Cece.
Object Permanence is something that we develop early on (before age 2) that we realize that something exists even if we can’t see it. Most likely, my cousin still had not developed object permanence yet, and she believed that my aunt actually disappeared when she left her sight. Not only that, but she behaved the same way with toys and food. If my aunt put away her toy or her snack, my cousin would start crying. Sometimes she felt like she spoiled Cece too much, and that she cried because she didn’t want to give up what she had, but she probably thought those things went away forever. In the end, there wasn’t anything wrong with Cece, it just happens to be how toddlers view the world.
Like most people, many of my irrational fears came from experiences in my early childhood. This time, I absolutely hated melted cheese and it all began in preschool. The first bad experience I had came from some mini cheeseburgers that were packed for my lunch. I had eaten hamburgers (with no cheese) and loved them, so I was really excited to eat these cheeseburgers. Of course, fully-cooked, frozen burgers that you microwave won’t be nearly as good as fresh ones, and these mini burgers were no exception. I took one bite and it was disgusting. As a preschooler, I knew it had to be the cheese that made it bad. I tried as best as I could to avoid melted cheese, but you forget easily when you’re four. Soon enough I ran into another experience with melted cheese, and it ended up being a bad experience again. The next time, I tried to make a grilled cheese because I heard on TV that they were delicious. I knew what a grilled cheese looked like, and I thought you just take two slices of bread, some American cheese and pop it in the microwave. Unfortunately, I was completely wrong, and the sandwich was also pretty nasty. Not thinking that I made the sandwich wrong, I just assumed it was the melted cheese again that ruined it and told myself I would never do that again. For about five or six years, I never ate anything with melted cheese. I would keep my sandwiches cold, request plain hamburgers at cookouts, and do anything else to avoid melted cheese. Somehow, I still ate pizza which was weird (no kid ever questions pizza I guess). It wasn’t until about the 4th grade when my mom asked me to try just one bite of her Panini that I realized melted cheese isn’t bad at all. From then on, I never had any issues with melted cheese.
In the early stages of psychology, these types of situations were important in the area of psychoanalysis (maybe not such trivial issues). In psychoanalysis, psychologists would look into a patient’s early life experiences to explain psychological disorders. They would look into experiences like childhood abuse and whether those traumatic experiences had negative impacts of a person’s mental health and if it did lead to psychological disorders. What they found was that childhood experiences can greatly impact your personality and develop into psychological problems. Although my experiences and problems with certain foods as a child were not serious issues, this type of behavior was a large part of psychoanalysis.