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Classical Conditioning & Aversion Therapy
As anyone who’s taken Psych 101 will recall, Classical Conditioning is all about transferring an automatic response (such as drooling when you see or smell food) to a new, formerly neutral stimulus (such as hearing a bell ring). As Pavlov famously demonstrated with dogs in Russia, if you ring the bell enough times before presenting food, the dogs will learn to drool when they hear the bell (an unnatural response) because they associate the bell with the prediction that food is about to appear. So, classical conditioning is all about associating one stimulus in your environment with another.
This basic human tendency has been modified slightly in a therapeutic technique called “Aversion Therapy.” Here, the therapist tries to modify a person’s behavior by teaching him or her to associate the behavior (or even thinking about the behavior) with some kind of negative consequence, such as the pain of an electric shock or extreme nausea. In the South Park movie, Cartman is exposed to this when an electronic chip is inserted into his brain, such that if he swears he’s punished by an electric shock. In one treatment for alcoholism, alcoholics consume a pill that has no effect unless they also consume alcohol; the combined drugs cause intense projectile vomiting designed to make the alcoholics want to avoid alcohol in the future.