What Is Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning?

Neo-Pavlovian conditioning refers to a concept in Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World” by which human babies are conditioned through electroshock to shun books and flowers, according to SparkNotes. As the babies crawl toward books and flowers, their caretakers administer a mild electric shock. The scientists in the book determined it takes nearly 200 repetitions of the shock treatment for the infants to abhor books and flowers completely.

The idea behind this conditioning in the book is to direct the behavior of children when they are expected to read books later in life, preventing them from reading material that might decondition them. The rationale behind a conditioned hatred of flowers is to foster the consumption of manufactured goods by getting infants to abhor nature. According to the book, hating books and flowers leads to a greater amount of consumerism.

Pavlovian conditioning was first described by Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov. He discovered the conditioned reflex using dogs. Pavlov rang a bell every time the dogs were fed. Eventually he determined that dogs salivated just by the sound of the bell signalling food was ready. Pavlov learned the animals were conditioned by associating the bell with food. Likewise, the infant babies in “Brave New World” are conditioned to fear books and nature by remembering the electric shock.