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Is it possible to manipulate people’s behavior?
Written by Kim Dongki | Published. 2018.06.26 17:36 | Count : 350
Throughout the year, I have taken AP psychology class due to my personal interest. Before I took the course, I thought psychology was merely a study of how to control and read people’s mind. I imagined if I took this course I could trick and play with people’s mind. Now, as I finished my AP exam, psychology was not the study I expected.
[Picture of books and notes that I used to prepare for the AP exam. Photo courtesy of myself.]

Through the course, I came to realize we (can't) control people’s mind, but we can control people’s behavior. We can make people act in a certain way by conditioning: a form of learning that modifies reaction to a stimulus. There were two major conditionings I learned from the course: operant and classical. First, operant conditioning uses rewards and punishments to encourage or diminish certain behaviors. This method of conditioning could be seen easily in our daily life. For instance, if my parents scorned me for getting bad grades, they were using positive punishment, which is one of the operant conditioning.
The other method of conditioning is classical conditioning. Classical conditioning links two stimuli. For example, if we fear insects, then we could link that stimulus with any neutral stimulus: black bottle, paper bag, weird noise, and etc. By merely exposing the neutral stimulus right before natural stimulus repetitively, people would perceive the neutral stimulus as a natural stimulus. When I learned this method of conditioning, I was astonished that we could link almost any stimulus by using classical conditioning.
[Picture of classical conditioning by Ivan Pavlov (Photo courtesy of schoolworkhelper.com)]

Recently, when I was reviewing my notes and books to prepare for my test, I confronted the concept of classical conditioning again. Like the beginning of the year, my heart was burning with passion. Now as I finished learning it, I wondered if it would work in real life, so I tried it on my own.

I planned to test this theory with my sister. Beforehand, I got a promise and an agreement from my sister that she could possibly be deceived about the procedure of an experiment for research methods. Then, I briefly told her what I was testing. However, if she knew too much about the experiment, she could be biased, so I briefly told her about the experiment.
The experiment was simple; I continuously splashed some water on her face and made a loud sound. After some repetition, the natural stimulus loud sound and conditioned stimulus splash of water were perceived similarly. Interestingly, nothing happened for the first few times, but after some repetition, I could see that she was conditioned by her shrieking and waiting for a loud noise followed by her scream and shiver when water was splashed. Ergo, the two stimuli, loud noise, and a splash of water, which were unrelated at first, were learned to be linked and perceived similarly by classical conditioning. I manipulated her behavior.

By observing the life around me, I could see that classical conditioning and operant conditioning were present in the daily lives of people. Unconsciously or consciously, people were conditioning others to get a behavior that they wanted. For example, classical conditioning is often used as a solution for addictions or bad habits. In conclusion, the lessons that once seemed to be useless and unusable were possible to be used in some sort of way, and it was possible to manipulate people's behavior. Just as I learned, we couldn’t fully control people, but we certainly could for people’s behavior.



Kim Dongki
Grade 10
Korea International School Jeju

Kim Dongki  student_reporter@dherald.com

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