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Pavlov, Ivan Petrovich

food studied dogs reflexes

(1849–1936) Russian physiologist: discoverer of the conditioned reflex.

When Pavlov graduated in medicine at St Petersburg in 1875 he had already done useful research in physiology, and his interest was mainly in this field rather than in practical medicine. In the 1880s he studied in Germany and from 1890 he held research posts in St Petersburg, finally building up a very large research centre.

In the 1890s Pavlov studied digestion, using great surgical skill to modify dogs so that, for example, part of the stomach (a ‘Pavlov pouch’) could be separated from the rest and its gastric juice collected. He discovered the secretory nerves to the pancreas, and he studied the nerves and action of the salivary glands. During this work he noted the way in which dogs salivate when stimulated by the routine of feeding, even before the arrival of food; this led him to the study of reflexes which became his life-long and best-known work, although his Nobel Prize of 1904 was for his work on digestion. He knew food in a dog’s mouth causes gastric juice to flow; this is an example of an unconditioned reflex. If a bell is always rung before food appears, the dog will soon salivate when the bell is rung even without the food.

Such conditioned or trained reflexes are easily induced in dogs, but can be established in other animals; they can be linked with stimuli other than sound and depend on a response in the cerebral cortex. Pavlov did extensive and ingenious work on such reflexes, and since then others have studied conditioning both in the laboratory and in the wild, and in vertebrates and invertebrates. Pavlov was a critic of Soviet communism and tried to move abroad in 1922 but failed. Despite this his work was well funded, and it remains more highly regarded in Russia than outside it, where it has certainly given a psychological dimension to physiology but even more has contributed to behaviourist approaches to psychology.

Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia (Helena), [next] [back] Pauling, Linus (Carl)

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