Ivan Pavlov  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (September 14, 1849 – February 27, 1936) was a Russian physiologist, psychologist, and physician. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1904 for research pertaining to the digestive system. Pavlov is widely known for first describing the phenomenon now known as classical conditioning in his experiments with dogs.

Reflex system research

Pavlov contributed to many areas of physiology and neurology. Most of his work involved research in temperament, conditioning and involuntary reflex actions. Pavlov performed and directed experiments on digestion, eventually publishing The Work of the Digestive Glands in 1897, after 12 years of research. His experiments earned him the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. These experiments included surgically extracting portions of the digestive system from animals, severing nerve bundles to determine the effects, and implanting fistulas between digestive organs and an external pouch to examine the organ's contents. This research served as a base for broad research on the digestive system.

Further work on reflex actions involved involuntary reactions to stress and pain. Pavlov extended the definitions of the four temperament types under study at the time: phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, and melancholic, updating the names to "the strong and impetuous type, the strong equilibrated and quiet type, the strong equilibrated and lively type, and the weak type." Pavlov and his researchers observed and began the study of transmarginal inhibition (TMI), the body's natural response of shutting down when exposed to overwhelming stress or pain by electric shock.

Carl Jung continued Pavlov's work on TMI and correlated the observed shutdown types in animals with his own introverted and extroverted temperament types in humans. Introverted persons, he believed, were more sensitive to stimuli and reached a TMI state earlier than their extroverted counterparts. This continuing research branch is gaining the name highly sensitive persons.

William Sargant and others continued the behavioral research in mental conditioning to achieve memory implantation and brainwashing (any effort aimed at instilling certain attitudes and beliefs in a person).

Legacy

The concept for which Pavlov is famous is the "conditioned reflex" (or in his own words the conditional reflex: the translation of условный рефлекс into English is debatable) he developed jointly with his assistant Ivan Filippovitch Tolochinov in 1901.

Tolochinov, whose own term for the phenomenon had been "reflex at a distance", communicated the results at the Congress of Natural Sciences in Helsinki in 1903. Later the same year Pavlov more fully explained the findings, at the 14th International Medical Congress in Madrid, where he read a paper entitled The Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology of Animals.

As Pavlov's work became known in the West, particularly through the writings of John B. Watson, the idea of "conditioning" as an automatic form of learning became a key concept in the developing specialism of comparative psychology, and the general approach to psychology that underlay it, behaviorism. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was an enthusiastic advocate of the importance of Pavlov's work for philosophy of mind.

Pavlov's research on conditional reflexes greatly influenced not only science, but also popular culture. The phrase "Pavlov's dog" is often used to describe someone who merely reacts to a situation rather than using critical thinking. Pavlovian conditioning was a major theme in Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel, Brave New World, and also to a large degree in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.

It is popularly believed that Pavlov always signaled the occurrence of food by ringing a bell. However, his writings record the use of a wide variety of stimuli, including electric shocks, whistles, metronomes, tuning forks, and a range of visual stimuli, in addition to ringing a bell. Catania tentatively attributed the popular imagery to Pavlov’s contemporaries Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev and John B. Watson, until Thomas found several references that unambiguously stated Pavlov did, indeed, use a bell.

It is less widely known that Pavlov's experiments on the conditional reflex extended to children, some of whom apparently underwent surgical procedures, similar to those performed on the dogs, for the collection of saliva.

See also




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