Sep 262016


Today is the birthday (1849) of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (Ива́н Петро́вич Па́влов) [O.S. 14 September] a Russian physiologist known primarily for his work in classical conditioning. Pavlov won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1904, becoming the first Russian Nobel laureate. Pavlov’s principles of classical conditioning have been used across a variety of experimental and clinical settings, including classrooms. As ever, I start with a disclaimer. I vehemently oppose the use of conditioning and its outgrowth, behaviorism. Both make the grossly unwarranted assumption that forcing changes in outward actions changes mental conditions.

Pavlov was the eldest of eleven children, born in Ryazan, to the SE of Moscow. His father, Peter Dmitrievich Pavlov (1823–1899), was a village priest. As a child, Pavlov willingly participated in house duties such as doing the dishes and taking care of his siblings. He loved to garden, ride his bicycle, row, swim, and play gorodki (a kind of skittles game). Although able to read by the age of 7, Pavlov was seriously injured when he fell from a high wall on to stone pavement. As a result he did not begin formal schooling until he was 11 years old.

Pavlov attended and graduated from the Ryazan church school before entering the local theological seminary. However, in 1870, Pavlov left the seminary without graduating to attend the university at St. Petersburg where he enrolled in the physics and mathematics department and took natural science courses. In his fourth year, his first research project on the physiology of the nerves of the pancreas won him a prestigious university award. In 1875, Pavlov completed his course with an outstanding record and received the degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences. His interest in physiology led him to continue his studies at the Imperial Academy of Medical Surgery. While there Pavlov became an assistant to his former teacher, Tyson, but left the department when Tyson was replaced by another instructor.


After some time, Pavlov obtained a position as a laboratory assistant to Professor Ustimovich at the physiological department of the Veterinary Institute. For two years, Pavlov investigated the circulatory system for his medical dissertation. In 1878, Professor S.P. Botkin, a famous Russian clinician, invited Pavlov to work in the physiological laboratory as the clinic’s chief. In 1879, Pavlov graduated from the Medical Military Academy with a gold medal award for his research work. After a competitive examination, Pavlov won a fellowship at the Academy for postgraduate work. The fellowship and his position as Director of the Physiological Laboratory at the clinic of the famous Russian clinician, S. P. Botkin enabled Pavlov to continue his research work. In 1883, he presented his doctor’s thesis on the centrifugal nerves of the heart and proposed the idea of “nervism” and the basic principles on the trophic function of the nervous system. Additionally, his collaboration with the Botkin clinic produced evidence of a basic pattern in the regulation of reflexes in the activity of circulatory organs.

After completing his doctorate, Pavlov went to Germany where he studied in Leipzig with Carl Ludwig and Eimear Kelly in the Heidenhain laboratories in Breslau. He remained there from 1884 to 1886. Heidenhain was studying digestion in dogs, using an exteriorized section of the stomach. However, Pavlov perfected the technique by overcoming the problem of maintaining the external nerve supply. The exteriorized section became known as the Heidenhain or Pavlov pouch.


After two years (1884–1886), Pavlov returned from Germany. In 1891, Pavlov was invited to the Imperial Institute of Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg to organize and direct the Department of Physiology. Over a 45-year period, under his direction it became one of the most important centers of physiological research. While there he carried out his famous experiments on the digestive glands which  won him the Nobel prize. Pavlov investigated the gastric function of dogs, and later, children,[19] by externalizing a salivary gland so he could collect, measure, and analyze the saliva and what response it had to food under different conditions. He noticed that the dogs tended to salivate before food was actually delivered to their mouths, and set out to investigate this “psychic secretion”, as he called it. Pavlov’s laboratory housed a full-scale kennel for the experimental animals. Pavlov was interested in observing their long-term physiological processes. This required keeping them alive and healthy in order to conduct