Monday, January 16, 2012

Pavlovian Conditioning: One of Science's "Most Beautiful Theories"

Every January, John Brockman, the impresario and literary agent who presides over the online salon Edge.org, asks his circle of scientists, digerati and humanities scholars to tackle one question...This year, he posed the open-ended question "what is your favorite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation?"...Stephen Kosslyn, director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, is most impressed by Pavlovian conditioning, in which a neutral stimulus such as a sound comes to be associated with a reward, such as food, producing a response, such as salivation. That much is familiar. Less well known is that Pavlovian conditioning might account for placebo effects. After people have used analgesics such as ibuprofen or aspirin many times, the drugs begin to have effects before their active ingredients kick in. more

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