Pavlov, Office Style

This clip, from the US version of comedy show The Office, shows Jim training co-worker Dwight to expect a sweet everytime he reboots his computer.

From Vodpod.

Psychologists everywhere will recognise this an an application of classical conditioning. The ‘scientist’ Jim has heard of is, of course, Ivan Pavlov.

Thanks to Russ Fazio for showing us this clip during his keynote at the recent BPS Social Psychology Section conference.


  1. Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    An interesting program that you may mention:
    “Minds on the Edge” from PBS.
    Coming this month.
    Here’s the link:
    Best regards.

  2. kenmarable
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    That’s a great show!
    Reminds me of college where a friend of mine who had a really deep, distinctive voice decided to try conditioning with his roommate. Every night he would wait for his roommate to settle into bed and just be starting to fall asleep when my friend would say “SEX”.
    Pretty soon he could get his roommate to yawn and become tired every time he said “SEX” in his deep voice. Even knowing what was happening and knowing all about conditioning, there was nothing he could do to keep from yawning.

  3. The Other Eric
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Very recently the show ‘Big Bang Theory’ approached conditioning from the roommate’s perspective.

  4. Posted October 9, 2009 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I think I’ve inadvertently conditioned my cat to respond to the sound of the computer turning on. Whenever it happens she notices and comes into the computer room. Then she sits in front of my screen until I evict her from the room. She’s obsessed with attention…

  5. Posted October 10, 2009 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Er, I’m not a behaviourist, but…if this is classical conditioning, try figuring out the US, CS, UR, and CR. Can’t do it? The problem is that sticking out one’s hand is not a reflex; Pavlov’s work is about conditioning reflexes.
    However, if you view sticking one’s hand out as a behaviour that operates on the environment, this scenario can be seen as an example of operant conditioning.
    Remember Skinner’s A-B-Cs of behaviour?
     A = antecedent: sound of computer rebooting,
     B = behaviour: hand sticking out,
     C = consequences: getting a Mento.
    It’s even more complex than this. One really should factor in the verbal behaviour of asking someone to stick out their hand, etc.

  6. Posted October 11, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    @The Other Eric: I’ve had some respect for The Big Bang Theory because they seem to be interested in getting the science right. Unfortunately, not when it comes to psychology. In that episode, one of the characters makes the classic intro psych blunder of referring to (positive) punishment as “negative reinforcement.” *sigh*
    (BTW, those of us who are not in the US are prevented from watching that clip.)
    @kloepelm: Since I seem to be such a stickler, the candy was Altoids, not Mentos.

  7. Posted October 14, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    @kloepelm I agree that classical conditioning is the only thing that is going on here (and even that even simple classical conditioning isn’t really simple), but I think it isn’t in appropriate to apply the framework to understand.
    UCS: Being offered an altoid
    CS: Windows restart sound
    UCR: Salivation (approx equal to ‘wanting an altoid’, but obviously we’re all behaviourist here so we can’t talk about wanting!)

  8. vieome
    Posted April 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Could any one tell me if Pavlov ever conducted conditioning experiments with animals in which the animal could expect a punishment or a reward for the same condition. e.g a sound of bell could mean a shock or a treat ? A test for the choice an animal would make?

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