How Ivan Pavlov Discovered Classical Conditioning
By Kendra Van Wagner, About.com GuidePhysiologist Ivan Pavlov's research on salivation and digestion led to the discovering of classical conditioning.
The concept of classical conditioning is studied by every entry-level psychology student, soit may be surprising to learn that the man who first noted this phenomenon was not a psychology at all. Ivan Pavlov was a noted Russian physiologist who went on to win the 1904 Nobel Prize for hiswork studying digestive processes. It was while studying digestion in dogs that Pavlov noted an interesting occurrence – his canine subjects would begin to salivate whenever an assistant entered theroom.
In his digestive research, Pavlov and his assistants would introduce a variety of edible and non-edible items and measure the saliva production that the items produced. Salivation, he noted, is areflexive process. It occurs automatically in response to a specific stimulus and is not under conscious control. However, Pavlov noted that the dogs would often begin salivating in the absence of foodand smell. He quickly realized that this salivary response was not due to an automatic, physiological process.
The Development of Classical Conditioning Theory
Based on his observations, Pavlovsuggested that the salivation was a learned response. The dogs were responding to the sight of the research assistants' white lab coats, which the animals had come to associate with the presentation offood. Unlike the salivary response to the presentation of food, which is an unconditioned reflex, salivating to the expectation of food is a conditioned reflex.
Pavlov then focused on investigatingexactly how these conditioned responses are learned or acquired. In a series of experiments, Pavlov set out to provoke a conditioned response to a previously neutral stimulus. He opted to use food as...