As the semester goes on, the sleep deprivation grows more and more and it gets harder every day to wake up for those 8am classes. The terrible sound of the alarm clock sounds, and somehow I get out of bed, running on a few hours of sleep and a cup of coffee. I dread the sound of my alarm, but not only in the morning. If I hear this tone go off in the middle of the day, I immediately feel anxious. This sound makes me cringe at any time of the day. In fact, every day I have my educational psychology class a watch alarm goes off that sounds exactly like my morning alarm clock, and instantly I feel a twinge of anxiety and lose all focus. I began to think, maybe my brain is conditioned to feel this anxiety, associating the sound with having to wake up. From this experience, I began to question the real reason why this sound brings along such anxiety with it. My hypothesis is that our brains learn to associate this tone with anxiety after a long period of time of being paired together. Along with this, I want to find out why this sound still gives me anxiety completely out of context in the middle of class.
In this study done by Philip C. Kendall at Temple University, he describes that classical conditioning, which is very common in psychology, is the reason for this anxiety. Classical conditioning is a process believed by behaviorists that associates neutral stimuli with an unconditioned stimulus, and when this unconditioned stimulus is aversive, the neutral stimulus becomes unpleasant too. In this article, it explains how a lot of anxiety is learned through classical conditioning as a child. Since I have been using the same tone as my alarm clock since middle school, it makes sense that I would have learned to associate anxiety to this tone since waking up early causes me anxiety. I am associating this sense of anxiety with the tone as well as with waking up early, and once it has been conditioned, this tone will cause anxiety in other environments. This supports my hypothesis, but now I know how and why this works the way it does.
While researching this topic, I also found an interesting topic that could be a reason as to why the tone of an alarm clock gives me anxiety. In this article in Psychology Today, it explains that since noise is a stimulus, it can cause people to react negatively to it, like any other stimulus. It also explains that stimuli that can not be controlled can cause more stress than stimuli under our control because humans like to be in control of their surroundings. Some people also have a stronger sensitivity to sound than others, and after reading this article, I have realized that I definitely fall into this category. People who fall into this category are at a higher risk to be stressed by certain sounds, which can also add to the stress of the conditioning of the sound of an alarm clock, making this conditioned aversive stimuli even more likely to be stressful.
One way to try to avoid this classical conditioning of the sound of an alarm and anxiety is switching up the sound that you wake up to each morning so that you are not conditioning your mind to hate a certain sound. This is also why people suggest that you don’t set your favorite song as your alarm in the morning because you will learn to hate it by associating it with the anxiety and stress of waking up in the morning.
Overall, my hypothesis was correct and the reason for being able to generalize this alarm clock sound over environments is due to classical conditioning. Because my brain has paired this sound with the anxiety of waking up in the morning, I do not physically have to be waking up in the morning to feel this anxiety because the sound as well as the morning both now trigger the conditioned response of anxiety. After learning about this, I think it is best to change the tone that you wake up to each morning fairly regularly so your body does not condition anxiety to a certain sound, and if you do not want to switch up your alarm all of the time, pick a sound that you will not hear regularly in your environment! That way you never have to feel the sudden panic that I feel as I hear the tone of my alarm coming from a watch in educational psychology every class at noon!!