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I tend to refer to a person as a human rather than a person. For example, just yesterday I was asking one of my friends about finding someone to participate in a group event and the conversation goes as follows, “Are you just looking for a person to go with you?” he asked and I respond with “No, I need another human.” The tendency to call people humans has been prevalent for at least the past two years, but I was called out on it a couple of months ago, which lead me to wonder about this behavior. Someone said that I referred to people as humans to create a distance between myself and them and it made me curious as to what the origin of this behavior could be from. There were no apparent problems with calling others human, until it dawned on me that others would perceive it as me trying to distance myself. Thus, I’d like to formulate a method to reduce the tendency to refer to people as humans as well as determine the potential ways Pavlovian, classical, and operant conditioning has affected this behavior.
The most probable origin of this behavior is that I saw a person, most likely in a movie, use the word “human,” frequently enough, and what followed was laughter that I began to pair the stimuli together. Based on classical conditioning, this would be trace conditioning because the conditioned stimulus, using the word “human,” precedes the unconditioned stimulus, laughter. The unconditioned response would be happiness and the conditioned response would be the desire to use the word “human.” Because I am quick to make connections, the CS-US contingency would not need to be very frequent for me to pair the stimuli, perhaps after seeing 3 to 5 different people use “human” followed by laughter would have been sufficient for me. Along with this, I probably saw the CS-US pairs while watching a movie/show, and since I was excited was able to learn the behavior faster.
However, this is not the only way of classical conditioning that this behavior could have initially formed. Higher-order conditioning could, also, form this behavior. For example, conditioned stimulus, thought of something as clever, was previously paired with the unconditioned stimulus, funniness, that had the unconditioned response of being content. Thus, the conditioned response is liking cleverness. In the movie/show that I saw the character use the word “human,” I paired this conditioned stimulus with cleverness, which was perceived based on the context of the scene. This would also be trace conditioning because the conditioned stimulus of using “human” is before the conditioned stimulus of thinking it was clever. Then once the “human” conditioned stimulus has been paired to the cleverness conditioned stimulus, which is already paired with the unconditioned stimulus, funniness, the “human” conditioned stimulus would suffice to elicit the unconditioned response, being content. The conditioned response to using “human” would then be the desire to use the word, “human.”
On the other hand, based on operant conditioning, the behavior, usage of the word “human,” increases when the stimulus, laughter, is presented. That is, when I use the word “human” people would find it peculiar, but nonetheless funny and laugh, which reinforced the behavior so that I would use “human” again. Thus, the behavior is positively reinforced. In order to, extinguish this behavior, extinction can be used under operant conditioning, where the reinforcing consequence, laughter, is no longer present when the behavior occurs. Thus, the behavior would gradually stop occurring. Or the behavior can be paired with a consequence that decreases the behavior. Utilizing the fact that I became curious about the origins of this behavior, because someone misunderstood the purpose in my behavior, operant conditioning can be used to decrease this behavior. That is to say that being misunderstood is the stimulus presented that will lead to a decrease in the strength of the behavior, thus positive punishment is used.
The development of this behavior is not fully explained with the Pavlovian and operant conditioning concepts discussed. There are other factors to consider like my learning history, the accuracy of my memory, biasness etc. These factors affect how in depth and accurate my analysis of the origin of my behavior can be, but are also factors that are near impossible to control for. Analyzing this behavior with Pavlovian concepts made me feel manipulated in some manner. The fact that the usage of “human” wasn’t because of my own free will, but possibly because of pairing with other stimuli was eerily uncomfortable to note. However, with operant conditioning concepts the feeling wasn’t that much better. The fact that the behavior had to be reinforced and could be strengthened or decreased made me think of myself as a subject in an experiment. To think about how the behaviors, you consider your own are not due to the fact that “you just felt like it” or “you wanted to” leads to a question of autonomy over your actions.
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