Opinion: Column: The Doggone Truth

Opinion: Column: The Doggone Truth

I don't remember much substance from my freshman-level psychology 100 class at the University of Maryland in 1972 except that the lecture hall sat approximately 600 students, tests were graded on a bell curve (with which I was totally unfamiliar), the professor always wore black leather pants, and he brought his dog to every lecture. Sitting as far away as I did (my choice), I can't even tell you what kind of dog was at the end of his leash. Content-wise, I remember Pavlov's dog, B.F. Skinner, behavior modification and conditioned reflex (something to do with saliva). And that's about it. Oh, and I received a "D," my first-ever below-"C" grade. Still, it is my first-ever memory of classes while attending college. As such, it has stuck with me for years. As has predictable behavior.

What I am referring to is how I can be predicted to behave after my wife, Dina, doles out my daily Nestle’s Crunch bar allotment. As you regular readers may recall, due to the pandemic and my status as a primary Covid risk: over age 65, lung disease and compromised immune system (the trifecta of trouble), I am not allowed to go to the grocery store, pharmacy or wholesale outlets and mix with the masses and risk exposure. What this means is that, for the first time in 40 or so years, I am not doing the in-store shopping. My wife Dina is. Moreover, she is ordering our food on-line, rather than risking her own exposure – and mine indirectly, by shopping in-store, since it's unlikely we'll be social-distancing once she's back at home. Ergo, she is in control of the food, from its initial order to its ultimate put-away at home. As a result, either I'm not getting what I crave/need, or I'm getting it with strict controls. Controls which involve some of my requirements (chocolate) being out of site, but unfortunately not out of my mind, and then having Dina distributing it very judiciously – and not according to my demands either. Particularly so for the candy. Dina is hiding it – in plain sight, she claims, for weeks now, and try as I most definitely have, I can't seem to find it.

Now back to Pavlov and Skinner and the dog. Every day, in the morning, before I get up and walk downstairs to the kitchen to begin my morning pill routine, Dina will have placed two Nestle’s Crunch fun-size bars in an empty candy dish in the dining room, same time, same place as the day before. So I know where and when to look and I do every day. To invoke these famous psychologists, a conditioned response has been created. I have anticipated her behavior and accordingly I walk into the dining room and reach for these two Nestle’s Crunch bars. My behavior has become absolutely predictable. Moreover, within a minute or so of finding them (more like 10 seconds), I will have unwrapped and eaten them – without fail. My reaction is as reliable/instinctive almost as if I were hit on the front of my knee with a mallet. Just as the knee reflexively jerks forward, so does my mouth pop open ("Oh boy") in anticipation and confirmation of the candy allocation.

However, this has not been any kind of controlled experiment. Dina is not learning anything about my behavior that she hasn't witnessed first hand dating back to 1978. She's not portioning out these hidden treats to see how I'll react. She knows. If I don't get my candy, I'll fuss about it (that's a polite description of my reaction). Rather, she is attempting to manage my behavior/chocolate consumption (even though to quote my brother, Richard: "The weight looks good on me") because I'm pre-diabetic and have already been diagnosed with two types of cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and papillary thyroid, both stage IV – in a pandemic, no less, and in consideration of the fact that it's unhealthy for me to maintain my present pace.

Dina may not be able to exactly set her watch by my appearance in the dining room, but she certainly knows it's only a matter of time before I'll grab the bars; time she hopes she's helping to guarantee that I'll have after the candy has been eaten.