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26 Feb, 2009

Pavlov And His Dogs

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Life Coaching Articles|NLP Articles

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Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who lived from 1849-1936. He founded the Institute of Experimental Medicine in 1890, where his primary interest was digestion.

Pavlov’s Dogs is the name given to Ivan Pavlov’s seminal research in the early 20th Century, which established some essential principles of Classical Conditioning in the field of human psychology. Classical Conditioning concerns ‘learned’ or conditioned behaviour, and helps us understand how our past experiences can prompt certain behaviours in the future – for example, phobias (or irrational fears); neuroses (severe nervous or emotional responses to particular situations), and even mild feelings of concern or anxiety that virtually all of us are prone to in one way or another (such as public speaking).

Pavlov’s first experiment was simply to place a dog in a controlled environment: a soundproof, smell-proof cubicle with no outside view. A sound was made when food was given to the dog, and the amount of salivation the dog produced was measured. After repeating this several times, the sound was made but no food was given. The dog still salivated.

This simple experiment established that the dog did not necessarily need the food in order to respond to food. The dog was responding to a stimulus or ‘trigger’ that produced the same response as the real thing. Pavlov could make the dog salivate whenever the sound was made.

Putting this more technically, a ‘Conditioned Stimulus’ (the sound) can produce a ‘Conditioned Response’ (the salivation), which was the same ‘Unconditioned Response’ (salivation in response to food) for the original ‘Unconditioned Stimulus’ (the food).

Pavlov also proved that slight variations to the original sound also produced a salivation response (generalisation). He also obtained salivation responses by showing the dog a shape (a circle for food), and then established a level of ‘discrimination’ by showing an oval when there was no food.

By continually repeating the Conditioned Stimulus, the Conditioned response was seen to weaken, and then eventually to cease, which he called ‘Extinction’.

When the Conditioned Stimulus (sound) was started a day or two later, the dog again produced the Conditioned Response (salivation), which is called ‘Spontaneous Recovery’. This showed that conditioned behaviours become very deeply embedded and well established (and this is possible in a short period of time).

Classical Conditioning is responsible for all behaviour that involves ‘Reflexes’ – heart rate, perspiration, muscle-tension, etc.

Think about your own anxieties that produce these reactions – they are Conditioned Responses from something (a Conditioned Stimulus) that you experienced in the past.

References:
ANDERSON, John R, Cognitive Psychology and its implications, 4th edition, Freeman, 1995

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