Associative learning

The following extract is taken from ‘Decoded, The Science Behind Why We Buy’, by Phil Barden.

“What does the brain, or more specifically the autopilot, do with all the input it receives? It’s used for learning. But the way the autopilot learns is different to what we normally think of when we think of learning. This learning is not like the way we learn is school, rather it is based on what is called associative learning. Let’s look at an example.

The first time we hear the word ‘No’ it is just some phonetic pattern, a sound. But we recognise that the voice becomes louder and Mum’s face looks different the second time she says it. Some minutes later the word ‘No’ is accompanied by her taking something away from us. After a while relearn the meaning of the word ‘No’. This implicit learning is completely different to how we learn a foreign language in school. If we are walking down the street with our mother and there is a group of rough-looking youths in front of us, we experience our mother holding our hand more tightly and she starts to distance ourselves from them, and perhaps walks quicker. The next day she acts similarly, but this time not because of a gang of youths but because of a dog. This time she says, ‘Watch out for the dog, it might bite you.’ What we learn is that when there is some danger, our hand is held more tightly. And consequently, we learn that the youths are also associated with danger.”

Our brains form connections between signals when they occur together. Over time these are repeated and the connection is reinforced. What fires together, wires together.

Hey. I’m Alex Murrell. I'm a Planner at Epoch Design in Bristol where I help deliver highly creative, innovative and effective pack, instore and online communications for some of the world’s biggest FMCG brands. Want to know more? You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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