Friday, October 13, 2006

State Dependent Learning

One of the interesting things I learned about when I was in Sitka for the alcoholism training is state dependent learning, which basically means that things you learn in one state are often dependent on being in that state to remember/perform. If you were always high when you practiced guitar, you would need to be high to play at all well. If you learned to flirt and date while drunk, you need to be drunk to flirt and date.

Because many people begin various kinds of substance abuse at an early age, and one of the reasons for doing so is a feeling of social awkwardness, those people tend to learn their social skills in that state. In turn, having the skills restricted to the state they were learned in tends to reinforce returning to that state -- getting high not only feels good, but it is the only way the person knows to interact with the opposite sex.

I've been thinking about how this translates to other states as well. I've mentioned that I belong to an on-line support group for women who have given up dieting. One of the things that comes up there is the experience that many women have that when they are fat they don't date. We discuss whether it could possibly be the weight -- and since there are very fat women (some of them in our group) who do date and marry and slender women who don't, we know that isn't the only factor. Related to that, some women are afraid to be thin because when they are, men won't take no for an answer. And yet, there are thin women who can say no and fat women who can't.

This has been a real puzzle to me in my own life. I know that I have the skills to attract men and the skills to keep them at a distance that I'm comfortable with, and yet these skills have seemed to be dependent on my size. And what do you know, that is it! Not because of whether I look or feel pretty or sexy or confident, but because of state dependent learning. I learned to notice when men are attracted to me (which I don't do when I'm fat) and to respond to that when I was thin.

I learned to not see that attraction and hold men in the pals category when I was fat. It is almost impossible for me to do one in the other state. (Interestingly enough, my mother has this same split, but for her the states are married or single [widowed]. When she had a live husband, I could watch men knock themselves out to attract her and she wouldn't see it at all.)

And the other thing I learned is that the skills won't transfer to the other state, as I have always thought they would. "If I get thin," I've told myself, "I can just continue doing what I'm doing now." Except, I don't know how to do that thin. What I have to do is relearn! I have to make the behavior conscious, and then practice it in the other state, should I ever achieve the other state. So, what I know now is that I will not ever find that I've lost weight and can effortlessly hold all men in the pals category. Nor will I ever find that I'm effortlessly noticing and responding to men in the fat state. Which explains why every time I've changed size I've ended up reverting!

Fascinating stuff. Absolutely fascinating stuff.


J said...

I don't know what to say, except that I hope you can relearn these skills, so that you can be pals when you want, more if you want, whatever size you are. :)

Anvilcloud said...

You're right; it is fascinating. Maybe women have been attracted to me in all of my married years, but I just haven't noticed? There, I feel better already.

Maya's Granny said...

J. That's my idea. How nice it would be to be able to do what I want at any size.

AC - I'll bet they have.

Ally Bean said...

I've never heard of this concept and it makes so much sense to me. I'm going to have to think on this in my own life. Totally fascinating.

Tracy said...

I agree with J. :)

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