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Pavlov’s dogs had nothing on the family cat

Burt's Eye View

Alarm clocks would be easier to ignore if bladders didn’t eavesdrop.

It doesn’t matter how long or little I’ve been happily slumbering, the bell startles my bladder like a nervous bunny. It hops about, chanting, “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now.”

Pavlov’s dogs were chill by comparison.

During the 1890s to the 1930s, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and his dogs experimented with a concept called conditioned response.

You know how your teeth grind and your toes curl when your spouse says, “Honey, here’s an idea…” — that’s a conditioned response. You know what follows that phrase is going to reek of consequences that might be painful, expensive or worse, boring, so your body spontaneously cringes. Tears might roll down your cheeks. Years of living with whatever follows “Honey, here’s an idea,” have conditioned you to weep.

Ol’ Pavlov discovered that he didn’t have to train his dogs to salivate at feeding time — that was a natural response. But if he set off the click of his metronome or rang a bell just before he fed his dogs, in time, the dogs would salivate at the very sound of the clicking or ringing, even if no food was in sight. Like “Honey, here’s an idea,” Pavlov built a conditioned response.

That’s my old-man bladder — when the alarm rings, even if there’s no bathroom in sight — and there isn’t because I’ve scrunched my eyes and pulled blankets over my head — my bladder bounces the nervous bunny hop. Within seconds, I’m hopping, too, often with a fair amount of nervousness.

Decades ago in my teenage years, I’d conditioned my body to fall into deeper sleep at the sound of the alarm. Only the beeping of the school bus could break through that spell. Responses have changed in my 60s.

The years have added other conditioned responses. When Terry says, “You need new shirts. Let’s go shopping,” I break into a cold sweat, my legs shake and I contract the bubonic plague — the 24-hour variety.

The thought of plowing through racks and stacks of new shirts triggers a very different response in me than it does in her. One man’s duck-and-take-cover alarm is another woman’s call to wonderful adventure.

Pavlov had his puppies. We have a cat, an excellent subject for testing conditioned responses. So far, she’s scored 100 percent. I will be holding a door like a hotel porter or scooping whitefish pate into a bowl before I become consciously aware that I’m reacting to a particular tone of meow.

The cat, however, has never fallen prey to any of my bell-ringers, not even when I start my growled suggestions with, “Hey cat, here’s an idea…”

I’m so susceptible to conditioned responses that I might be coursing with energy until a glance at the clock tells me it’s time to go work. That sends me into a slumping, sagging sigh. I can’t help it. I’ve been conditioned.

What I need is for someone to drive me to work so that I wake up already installed at my desk while the enthusiasm’s still blasting. Just don’t awaken me with an alarm clock or the only energy I’ll exhibit is the nervous bunny hop. My bladder always listens in.

— Ring Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or www.burtonwcole.com.

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