Classical Conditioning

A technique used to associate a stimulus (a thing or event) with an unconscious physical or emotional response. That response triggering a release of dopamine. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gets released during enjoyable activity. It promotes feelings of pleasure and drives us to seek out more of that activity. In order for classical conditioning to be effective, a stimulus that normally does not evoke a response needs to be paired with one that does.

Classical Conditiniong and its role in habit formation have found its way into the design of many successful products. The use of this technique to influence the appeal of a design or influence specific kind of behaviours is very common in our day to day interaction with things. A couple of examples 

Images of attractive people stimulate the brain and condition positive associations with products, services and behaviours. While on the contrary disturbing images of violence, or injury stimulate pain centres in the brain and condition negative associations. For example anti smoking advertisements. 

Another cool example.
The timing between stimulus and reward was masterfully manipulated by Amazon to substantially change the e-commerce experience. The cost of the Amazon Prime membership probably doesn’t come close to the shipping fees forgone by the company on Prime members. So, why would Amazon subsidize two-day shipping for its customers? Because Prime members will buy more, and therefore generate more revenue for the company. You see, the fact that delivery times were shortened to two days completely changed the psychological experience of e-commerce. 

Consider instead buying something on eBay? No one wanted to pay the exorbitant cost of express shipping, so it takes 1–2 weeks to receive the package. By the time you received your package, you’d likely forgotten that you’d bought anything at all. It’s exciting to open the package, but by this point, that excitement is not meaningfully tied to eBay or the online shopping experience. 

Now compare that to the experience of Amazon. You click, you buy, and in 2 days you’re delighted by an Amazon branded box. Your brain readily makes the association between the delight of opening a package from Amazon and the order confirmation page that you saw 2 days before. 

The next time you click to purchase something on Amazon, your brain releases some dopamine and the habit begins to solidify. Amazon knew it had to shorten delivery time and it did that by making the necessary investments in logistics and scale to achieve that improved customer experience. 

Classical Conditioning is a type of learning 

There are three main types of learning: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. Both classical and operant conditioning are forms of associative learning, in which associations are made between events that occur together. Observational learning is as it sounds, learning by observing.

More reading / references