Do you remember reading about the Pavlovian response? It’s named after the scientist who essentially conditioned his dogs to salivate on demand.
Ivan Pavlov’s experiment went like this: He made a sound before mealtimes to signify that the food was coming, and when it did, his dogs salivated. When they became accustomed to the sound that signified the food was coming, he kept the experiment going with the sound, but not the actual meals, and his dogs continued with the learned response. Sound equals food, so they salivated.
From that kind of reward association, we can now get an idea of how we get trained to our own reward situations. From that, you can get a glimpse of how we can get conditioned to act in certain situations, even without a ‘reward’ at the end.
What we are exposed to, we can get used to. When we get ‘rewarded’ for doing things a certain way, we get habituated — again, conditioned — to responding that certain way. Expectations are set and we grow into responding quickly.
When you are use to the speed of response given by today’s technology, you can get habituated to responding immediately. Pings, pop-up messages, signals… when these register on your radar, you are alerted.
What happens when you are alerted continuously though, is that your brain can become overworked trying to sort out and prioritize all those incoming demands for your attention.
We can set certain rules and filters in email, of course. That’s what they’re there for. We can set up voice mail as well. But these strategies are external, and don’t really touch on the internal and mental toll it takes to recognize, prioritize and respond to all these demands on our time.
- Haven’t you ever felt a sinking feeling in your stomach when you see the total number of unread emails in your inbox and the priority folders in it? Or see the number of messages blinking for attention on your answering machine?
When you are habituated to compulsive update checking or responding, your brain’s internal alert systems are overworked. Focus is affected because the stimulus –pings, dings, pop-ups, rings— can keep coming and while you consciously try to keep you mind on the thing in front of you, your brain can’t help but keep registering the pings on your radar.
You pay for it: In split focus, or frayed concentration, in spilled energy mopping up after each ping, and a sinking feeling you’re not really attending to the important things in your days and in your life, since you’re basically on-call, all the time, for all the things coming in. Continue reading Screen Out Stress: Block Out The Pings