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Does Pavlov Live on in DJ Casper? Convince Me I'm Wrong.

Though it may seem ridiculous, I've had a theory for a long time that the best modern example of Ivan Pavlov's work is a line from DJ Casper's dance hit "Cha-Cha Slide." The whole song is just a series of instructions, but one line in particular sticks out (those who haven't attended an event with a DJ in the last six years can watch the video here). At about the 2:10 mark, DJ Casper calls out "Everybody clap your hands," which is followed by a steady rhythm of clapping from the crowd. Every time I've heard that line, be it at a dance, wedding or sporting event, it's followed by the same rhythm of applause. At the last baseball game I attended, they played that single line and all audible conversations stopped so people could concentrate on their clapping. I had always presented my theory about the hand clapping as our generation's classical conditioning (a la Pavlov's dogs) half-jokingly until last weekend. I was absent-mindedly driving when the "Cha-Cha Slide" came on the radio. Without thinking at all, I took my hands off the wheel (while I was still driving, mind you) to clap my hands. That just confirmed my belief that DJ Casper is Pavlov reincarnated.

pavlov2.jpgEven though evidence of conditioning is all around us, I found it a little (a lot?) depressing to think that my best example of Pavlov's legacy is a Bar Mitzvah staple dance track, so I've been looking into other good examples.

E-mail pings, The Office, and a chance to win a free t-shirt all after the break!

One that we're all familiar with is the email ping. In the early days of AOL, the dulcet tones of "You've got mail" were enough to cease any activity to check the mailbox with the expectation of some exciting correspondence. In fact, on this 12-step program for email addicts, step 6 is to disarm the chime. Shoppers at Kmart since 1965 have been conditioned by the store's on-again, off-again blue light specials. These brief sales were signaled by a flashing blue light, which would attract shoppers in search of discounted prices. Plenty of people are conditioned in college to switch songs for school spirit; growing up in Ohio, I can't help but think of shouting O-H-I-O during "Hang on Sloopy," and I don't even like Ohio State. I also can't think of anyone who hears "knock knock" and doesn't respond with "who's there?" Finally, it may not be an everyday example, but I'd still be remiss if I didn't pass on this hilarious clip from The Office about Pavlov in action.

One example I wasn't convinced by was this essay by Reverend David a Noebel from the 60's (scroll down). He contends that rock "˜n' roll, or as he calls it, Beatle-music, is full of stimuli designed to illicit delinquency in America's innocent teenagers.

"We contend that rock 'n' roll, certainly a strong external stimulus, is producing this artificial type of neurosis in our teenagers, and causing teenage mental breakdowns to reach an all time high.... Rock 'n' roll, with its perverted music form, dulls the capacity for attention and creates a kind of hypnotic monotony which blurs and makes unreal the external world."

Readers, I'm turning it over to you. I want to hear your non-dance track suggestions for the best examples of Pavlov's work in everyday life. In fact, I'm going to give out a Pavlov T-shirt from the mental_floss store to the best one, so write your answers in the comments section already!

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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