It is now time to turn our attention to a topic which we know will be both familiar and dear to the reader’s heart: Dogs. Namely, the dogs belonging to famed physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, who had conditioned them to associate the sound of a metronome with the arrival of food. Pavlov’s conditioning tricked these poor dogs’ salivary glands into producing saliva in response to the ticking of a metronome — an arbitrary sound completely unrelated to a delicious meal. But this process of conditioning can also be used to affect human behavior, and the fangirl is no exception. For her, Pavlov’s slobbery canines have a deeper lesson to reveal.
The process of classical conditioning that Pavlov created is simple, though the underlying psychological mechanisms have yet to be fully explained. Pavlov would play a certain sound — a buzzer, a metronome, a tuning fork — just before offering the dogs food, and before long, the sound alone was enough to make the dogs’ mouths water. They had learned to associate something that wasn’t food with the idea of food.
One interesting extension of Pavlov’s original experiment has been the discovery that a second stimulus can be introduced. Say, for example, Pavlov had chosen to say the word “Phan” to the dogs just before starting a metronome. Then, once the dogs had learned to associate “Phan” with the metronome’s sound, let us assume that Pavlov continued with the original procedure of teaching them to associate the metronome’s sound with food. After that, further research has discovered, without any additional conditioning, he could have then said the word “Phan,” and the dogs would have salivated just as they did upon hearing the metronome.
And this is where the prudent fangirl will pause to draw a lesson.
From the moment a fangirl stumbles across her first danisnotonfire or AmazingPhil video, the process of conditioning has begun. The outstanding video quality, the charmingly relatable content, the unparalleled levels of banter, all of these qualities and more cause the reward centers of her brain to light up as she watches. Almost immediately she begins to associate these two pale British boys’ smiling faces with a rush of pleasurable feelings. Without realizing what is happening to her, she quickly becomes conditioned to click when she sees those floppy fringes and self-deprecating grins. She knows that if she clicks, the endorphins will come.
But she is not the only one who knows this.
There are Unscrupulous Persons on the Internet. I know. It is shocking to consider. There are those who know that a picture of Dan and Phil’s faces or a casual reference to “phan” is all it takes to trigger the fangirl’s conditioned response to click. And, what’s more, they know that if they can convince her to click often enough, it won’t be long before she begins to associate the pleasant, tingly way phan makes her feel with a completely-unrelated YouTube channel, website, magazine, or brand.
Pavlov’s furry friends helped make an important contribution to our understanding of ourselves, but perhaps if they’d been asked whether they wanted to be taught to slobber when they heard a metronome, they would have politely declined. Fortunately for the fangirl, a human being is capable of objectively evaluating her own behaviors and choosing for herself whether she wishes to change them.