State Dependent Learned Behaviour (SDLB)

There are many ways

As an under-graduate, I was taught about learned behaviour. At that time, it all felt rather pre-determined; behaviour changes were hard to win –  even for Pavlov’s dogs and Skinner’s rats and pigeons! Little was said about the impact of our own mood on our ability to learn and absorb new things.

In current times, the impact of our mood, or state, on our learned behaviour is better known.

Later  I learned about the Positive Psychology movement, led by Martin Seligman and that helped create a change. His material casts light on how we use learning processes to absorb and exploit knowledge; to make a difference in our lives and go on doing that. The same guy developed the notion of Learned Helplessness. In adults, learned helplessness presents as a person not using or learning adaptive responses to difficult situations. People in this state typically accept that bad things will happen and that they have little control over them. They are unsuccessful in resolving issues even when there is a potential solution.

It took me a long time to appreciate the practical implications of his words. See my comments on making connections.


In due time, I learned about neuro-plasticity.  What’s that, I hear you ask.

It’s not such a new idea, but the implications have become clearer with the work of modern neuro-scientists. Their conclusions say the body learns and adapts through life. Neural pathways find new routes all the time. Even when I hit a snag, when an ability to perform is compromised, I may be able to find a new way do the same – or similar – thing.

In similar vein, it appears that how I learn and adapt is often influenced by the mood I am in. W

adapt, even if – and, maybe, because – I made mistakes along the way. Although some of it seemed trial-and-error, I was helped to see that the learning process was rarely a straight line.

Generally, I learned by travelling from my past, into my present on a scenic route that was heading into an unknown future. This idea was to become central to my own professional  practice in time.

Clinical Hypnosis

My understanding was further advanced when, after qualifying as a chartered psychologist, I completed a training in clinical hypnotherapy in London.  There, I was introduced to State Dependent Learned Behaviour (SDLB) in a practical way. During my trauma training, Babette Rothschild introduced me to another aspect of ‘learning’; State Dependent Memory and Learned Behaviour (SDMLB).

Such ideas are important in the design and implementation of small, safe experiments.

Why is ‘state dependent learning’ so helpful to this web site?

Because the state we are in when we design and implement safe experiments plays a large part in determining the results we will obtain.  Our state of being can colour our perception of the world so much so that we lose a link between the time we design something and the time we go to implement it! We can dissociate and that defence mechanism is a special case of state dependent behaviour.

How can we live with State Dependent Learned Behaviour (SDLB)?

SDLB refers to the tendency for information to be most easily remembered when we are in a particular emotional and physical state. Donald Overton, a US psychologist focused on drug-dependent memory in rats. Later, he demonstrated that humans in a drunken state best remembered learned material in a later drunken state, and were less likely to recall it all when sober.

In one experiment,  words learned by divers while they were underwater were best recalled when they were underwater once again. Conversely words they learned on land were best recalled on land.

It is this context and mood-dependent learning that helps to explain why pleasant experiences are more likely to be remembered by a person who is happy, and unpleasant experiences by someone who is unhappy and, indeed, may be likely to become even more unhappy as a result.

Implications for small victories and small defeats

It explains the important observation that ‘small defeats’ are more likely to be called to mind when we are in a negative state of mind.  Small victories too easily get overlooked.

This has implications for the design and implementation of small, safe experiments.  I can actively help to improve my chances of making an effective change by attending to the state I am in.

I am


how we feel in our bodies –


Some safe experiments

This is difficult – one of the first times when I wondered if I was running out of known small, safe experiments!

I do not want to encourage a number of experiments with all the legal – let alone illegal – mind-altering stimuli that are around. I’m not going to ask you to attend to the impact of, say, alcohol. The whole point of this page is to highlight how induced states have to be re-induced to transfer our learning from one place to another. That is not often a very helpful pre-requisite. Therefore, safe experiments here require me to attend to the state I am in, and is it the ‘best’ state in which to make those changes?

Let’s keep it simple and ensure that our ‘state’ is just noticed and reported-on within the system of recording you use.

Consider this page on recording: it looks long and involved. I rather hope that you’ve adapted it to what is possible, rather than what you must do?

Even so, I am going to complicate it further!  Notice the first section on:

Antecedents: what happened beforehand to prompt you to consider an experiment at all?

Now, I’d ask you to include ‘mood’ as an ‘antecedent’;  mood as a relevant factor around even before you get started! This factor as important as – where you are; who is with you and any thoughts you might notice about the task you have chosen to undertake.

To help here with designing experiments,  I’d refer again to the Body Scan as a preliminary exercise intended to help identify current feelings. This page may help as well with a practical suggestion or two.

What ARE you feelings as you start to do something just a little bit different?

Further leads to consider

What is a nudge

What actions can make up a safe experiment?

How to do safe experiments

Making Memories