Ivan Pavlov

Have you heard of Ivan Pavlov? Probably not. Have you heard of Pavlov's dog? Probably! Let's unpack who Ivan Pavlov was and why his dog was so important. 

Ivan Pavlov Ivan Pavlov

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Table of contents
    • Who was Ivan Pavlov?
    • Why is Ivan Pavlov important to psychology?
    • What is classical conditioning?

    Ivan Pavlov’s Contribution to Psychology

    Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist born on September 26, 1849, and died on February 27, 1936. While other famous psychologists didn’t always have a passion for education and learning, Pavlov prioritized knowledge his whole life. From a young age, he understood the importance of gathering and understanding new information. However, Pavlov’s area of study was not psychology but physiology.

    Physiology focuses on understanding how the body works.

    Pavlov was mentored by some of the top professors and physiologists of the day during his schooling in physiology. Pavlov was so successful during his education that he won countless prizes within his departments. Eventually, Pavlov finished his doctorate. He researched at different German labs but ultimately returned to his home country. After Pavlov returned to Russia, he spent most of his time studying digestion which won him a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1904!

    Ivan Pavlov, Photograph of Ivan Pavlov, StudySmarterIvan Pavlov. Wikimedia Commons.

    By this point, you’re probably wondering how Pavlov became a world-renowned psychologist when he spent his days studying physiology and even won a Nobel Prize for it. Funnily enough, when Pavlov was conducting an experiment on digestion and stomachs, he stumbled upon his top contribution to psychology – classical conditioning.

    Ivan Pavlov Classical Conditioning

    When Ivan Pavlov was studying dog digestion, he noticed something interesting about his canine participants. During his physiology experiments, Pavlov had his research assistants bring in the food for the dogs. The purpose of his physiology experiments had nothing to do with this stage, yet it later became the crucial piece of the puzzle to lead Pavlov to discover classical conditioning.

    When the researchers brought in the food, the dogs would salivate because they were hungry. They salivated because it is a natural reflex of our bodies. However, Pavlov noticed that when the dogs saw the researchers, even when the researchers weren't bringing food, the dogs would still salivate. The researchers didn't have food, so why were the dogs salivating? Classical conditioning!

    Classical conditioning can be thought of as unconscious learning that happens when an unintentional reflex gets paired with a stimulus.

    We’ll expand on other crucial definitions of classical conditioning when we talk about Pavlov’s experiment!

    Ivan Pavlov Theory

    Building upon his observations in the lab, Ivan Pavlov then formed his own experiment and theory about this unintentional salivation by the dogs. Pavlov theorized that classical conditioning happened when the dogs saw the researchers come into the room. Since the dogs still salivated when the researchers didn’t have food, Pavlov stated that the stimulus of the food had been paired with a previously neutral stimulus, the researchers. So, instead of the dogs salivating when they saw the food, they salivated when they saw the researchers.

    Pavlov took his initial observations in the lab and formulated his new theory and hypothesis. He believed that using classical conditioning, he would be able to condition a dog to salivate when they heard a bell ring rather than in the presence of food. While Pavlov had already partially observed this in the lab during his physiology studies, this was his first time conducting a psychological experiment.

    Ivan Pavlov’s Experiment

    Even if you’ve never heard of Ivan Pavlov before, there’s a chance you’ve heard of the phrase Pavlov’s dog. Although Pavlov’s experiment was studying classical conditioning, it is colloquially known as Pavlov’s dog. Pavlov's goal was to condition a dog to salivate when he rang a bell.

    Let’s break down the experiment into three distinct steps to understand the definitions and what classical conditioning is.

    Before Conditioning

    Before conditioning, the dog didn’t salivate when he heard the bell ring but did salivate when he was presented with food, as all dogs do. In this instance, the unconditioned stimulus would be the dog getting food and the unconditioned response would be the dog salivating when he saw the food. Both of these terms have the adjective unconditioned because these are the dog's natural responses. He hasn’t been conditioned therefore is unconditioned.

    An unconditioned stimulus (UCS) is the presented object that involuntarily produces a response.

    An unconditioned response (UCR) is the body’s natural response to the unconditioned stimulus.

    So we’ve defined the food and salivation in terms of conditioning terminology, but what about the bell? The ringing of the bell would be what is referred to as the neutral stimulus.

    A neutral stimulus (NS) is the item that doesn’t provoke a response before conditioning, but later will when it gets paired with the unconditioned stimulus.

    The bell is the neutral stimulus because before conditioning, ringing the bell meant nothing to the dog. The stimulus is neutral. However, the bell will later change to become the conditioned stimulus.

    Ivan Pavlov, Photograph of a dog licking its nose, StudySmarterA classically conditioned dog. Pixabay.com.

    Review of Before Conditioning

    Before conditioning, the dog gets presented with food (UCS) and salivates (UCR). When he hears the bell (NS), nothing happens.

    During Conditioning

    The next step of Pavlov’s experiment is the actual conditioning of the dog (also known as acquisition). The goal of conditioning is to pair the unconditioned stimulus with the neutral stimulus. In other words, Pavlov was trying to make the dog salivate when he rang the bell. To do so, any time he gave the dog food, he rang the bell. Initially, the dog would salivate (UCR) when he saw the food (UCS). By ringing the bell every time the dog saw the food, he eventually paired the bell (NS) with the food (UCS).

    Since classical conditioning relies on natural, unconscious learning, it takes time to pair these two stimuli together.

    After Conditioning

    After many trials, the pairing occurred, resulting in a conditioned stimulus and conditioned response.

    A conditioned stimulus (CS) is the item that was the neutral stimulus but after it got paired with the unconditioned stimulus, it becomes the conditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus then causes the conditioned response.

    So, for Pavlov, the conditioned stimulus is ringing the bell. The bell started off as the neutral stimulus and during conditioning, it got paired with the unconditioned stimulus (the food) by being presented simultaneously. Eventually, the dog paired those two in his mind, making the bell the conditioned stimulus.

    A conditioned response (CR) is the body’s natural response that used to be the unconditioned response but due to conditioning, has become the conditioned response.

    The conditioned response is the dog salivating. Before, the dog involuntarily salivated when he saw the food. However, the dog started salivating when he heard the bell ring from conditioning.

    Ivan Pavlov, Image of a bell ringing, StudySmarterThe ringing of the bell made the dog salivate. Pixabay.com.

    Review of After Conditioning

    After conditioning, the dog salivates (CR) when someone rings the bell (CS). The food (UCS) no longer needs to be presented for the dog to salivate (previously known as the UCR but now known as CR).

    Pavlov's dog experiment was the first published study about classical conditioning. Can you think of other examples of classical conditioning in your daily life?

    Facts about Ivan Pavlov

    Although Pavlov was most famous for his groundbreaking research in classical conditioning, he did have other features.

    • Before Pavlov focused his educational journey on physiology, he started out in theological seminary school.

    • Pavlov was married to Seraphima Vasilievna Karchevskaya, a teacher, from 1881 until he died in 1936.

    • Pavlov died when he was 86 years old from double pneumonia.

    • Despite being from Russia, Pavlov denounced communism in the 1920s, openly disagreeing with widespread political opinion at the time.

    • Pavlov's work with classical conditioning paved the way for other psychologists like BF Skinner and John B. Watson and their ideas of behaviorism

    Ian Pavlov - Key takeaways

    • Ivan Pavlov's most important contribution to psychology is the field of classical conditioning
    • Ivan Pavlov happened upon classical conditioning when studying the digestion of dogs
    • Before conditioning, there is an unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, and neutral stimulus which are all natural responses without manipulation
    • During conditioning, researchers try to pair the neutral stimulus with the unconditioned stimulus to elicit the unconditioned response
    • After conditioning, the neutral stimulus becomes the conditioned stimulus. When the conditioned stimulus is presented, it should elicit the conditioned response.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Ivan Pavlov

    What is Ivan Pavlov's theory? 

    Ivan Pavlov's theory is classical conditioning. 

    What is Ivan Pavlov most known for? 

    Ivan Pavlov is most known for classical conditioning, making unconscious behaviors learned. 

    When did Ivan Pavlov discover classical conditioning ?

    Ivan Pavlov accidentally discovered classical conditioning when working in his physiology lab and studying the salivation of dogs. 

    What is classical conditioning in psychology? 

    Classical conditioning is unconscious learning that happens when an unintentional reflex gets paired with a stimulus. 

    Who was Ivan Pavlov influenced by? 

    Ivan Pavlov was influenced by Ivan Sechenov, another Russian physiologist. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What country was Ivan Pavlov from?

    True or false? Ivan Pavlov was educated in psychology. 

    What was Ivan Pavlov's unconditioned stimulus in his experiment?

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