Associative Behaviors: Processing a More Engaged Environment

Posted by

Growing up in Farmington, learning moments often got thrust upon me in unconventional and difficult-to-immediately-resolve situations. For instance, at a friend’s birthday party when I was 8 or 9, his father took us for a ride in a large offroader through some fields full of cat grass, cottontail, and old corn stalks. The rare beauty of undomesticated territory is in the swathes of orange that can occupy the vision of it the deeper you go. I knew I had a pollen allergy up to that point, but didn’t quite understand the implications of an allergy or how bad it could get yet. Needless to say, throwing a large mass quickly through a dense cloud of, effectively, unmitigated pollen surely tested my bodies capacity for withstanding the allergy. I had a bit of an allergy attack wherein I had immense difficulty breathing which, as a child, induces a bit of panic (therein stressing the body and making it less likely to breathe easier).

As a result, I grew to associate an unease and even fear with meadows, prairies, and fields like that because of their plant-based components. The associative behaviors paired here tended to be avoiding these areas, creating this villainous dialogue like the cat grass was out to get me, and telling myself and others that I was incapable of traversing them.

The emotional development anybody experiences over the years will yield a selection of associated feeling-to-experience phenomenon. Oftentimes our associations can indicate greater opportunities for growth, so long as we take the time to nurture and understand their place and purpose within our operative paradigm. With a host of examples, I’d like to offer alternatives and ways of engaging emotionally and intuitively with associations that may allow for expansive complications to arise.

What Are Associative Behaviors? History and Applications of Classical Conditioning

All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening.

Terrance Hayes

Associative behaviors are actions, intuitions, and memories we acquire that are tied very directly to other stimuli. Simple instances of associations are thinking about ice cream and salivating, or smelling the scent of a campfire and relaxing. Behaviors in these instances were most historically studied under the guise of classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian Conditioning), in which various animals, most prominently dogs, were trained to perform certain actions upon hearing a bell, or learning to tie particular musical notes to experiences.

Common criticisms of conditioning argue that it doesn’t account so much for free will, and the ability for an individual to choose not to adhere to conditioned responses; additionally, conditioning’s core operation is to reduce behaviors into small components that are easy to understand and study, which, fundamentally, human behavior is so complicated because emotional iterations and actions are all interweaved.

Causal Learning and The Associations of Stimuli

In recent years, causal learning is becoming more and more prominent in the machine learning and artificial intelligence spheres. However, before the technological factors of causal learning, we first understand the human effects. Effectively, understanding associations and associative behavior are a first step for gaining a better understanding for the mechanisms at work in how we learn and come to understand our world(s) and how they interact. After becoming comfortable with associations, then we go into learning about effects and causes of experiences.

Joseph Mallord William, Slavers Throwing Overboard the Death and Dying Scaled

For example, I love bears, and so when someone shares an image of a bear or mentions a bear in conversation with me, I become happier and filled with a type of passion and engagement. This is a learned response and association to the idea of bears. The operative word in this example is learned. When we are looking at processing and understanding our environments, we are effectively asking the questions: how do we learn about our environment, and how does our environment learn about us?

Importantly in my example, there is a trigger being that ‘someone shares an image of a bear or mentions a bear in conversation with me,’ which indicates that my environment has learned two things: 1) that bear mentions cause happiness in me, and 2) that causing my happiness is something that is desired. On the individual side, you have an association and a response: bears to happiness, and in the environmental side you have a cause and an effect: mentioning bears to increased happiness. Expanding from here, we can learn quite a bit about the ways you can use associations and observations to effect an environment more profoundly.

There is, I have been suggesting, a mode of talk outside art that is analagous to the phenomenological blankness of art, a verbal play with the unspecifiable It of pure potentiality.

Leo Bersani

Much of the intention here is in witnessing and observation, or paying attention as a broader practice. Whether its a social interaction, or learning how certain communities operate together, one can use these basic principles to decipher and engage with environmental stimuli and behaviors with much greater comfort.

Adaptive Learning: Proactivity and Trusting Associations

In my opinion, a great tragedy is the inability to comfortable connect with an environment or experience on an emotional level. Paying attention to associations, behaviors, causes, and effects each equip you with the processes and observational skills to engage on an emotional level.

To start off, consider looking into further examples of causal learning or conditioning to find examples to continue cementing these principles in your head. But from there, try and engage with your environments by thinking and paying attention to these ideas in any of your experiences. Going on a walk? Determine the types of people who you move out of the way for and who move out of the way for you. Going to a new bar? How do people tend to order drinks and talk with the bartender, what kinds of relationships are fostered there, where do people tend to sit, and how does this contribute to the total emotional atmosphere of that environment?

In and through time, memories are reworked, reconstituted, and reconfigured to suit the constantly changing self that exists temporally. This relationship between the flux of time and the work of imagination points to the significance preservation plays in our experiences of places.

Dylan Trigg

The going course for all of this discussion is: challenge yourself to be more mindful and attentive in whatever experience or environment you’re in. Associative behaviors are learned everywhere, and you can reliably trust that you can adapt your own behaviors for a more emotionally responsive relationship.

If you’re interested in unraveling fears and rewards, or learning more about your own emotional and associative behaviors in the future, Espials are lessons I’ve crafted for each intended for guided self discovery.

And, warmly, any suggestions you care to make are welcome from my contact form.