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Ivan Pavlov Biography

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Ivan Pavlov was born in September, 1849 and died in February 1936. He was born in a small village in Russia. His initial studies were on theology since his father was a priest. However, reading the book of Charles Darwin on the origin of species had a considerable influence which shaped his future interests (Babkin, 1949). He abandoned his religious studies and studied natural science at the University of Saint Petersburg. His chief interests were on the study of physiology, which is a constituent of natural sciences. He founded the department of physiology at the university and continued to head it for a period of 45 years.

During one of his study on the digestive systems of dogs, he observed that the dogs produced before they are given the food.   In a series of experiments, he was able to present the different kinds of stimuli associated with the salivation of the dog. He associated these reflexes to conditional reflex. In addition, he also discovered that the origin of the reflexes were from the cerebral cortex of the brain. This discovery had a significant influence on psychology on behaviourism. His study and discovery of the reflex system significantly influenced the expansion of behaviourism. In addition, other researchers utilize this work in the study of conditioning as one of the forms of learning. He also demonstrated the ways of studying reactions to environmental stimuli using scientific methods.

Apart from the study of reflexes, he also studied the circulation of blood and the digestive system. He established the relationship between physical and chemical. He studied the nature of psychological relationship between behaviour and the mind.

During his initial scientific work, between1874 and 1888, he studied the circulatory system of blood. His principal focus was on how the pressure of blood changed at different conditions. He also studied the regulation of the heart's activity. He noticed during his trials that the blood pressure of his dogs did not change frequently. He made an observation that the blood did not change when the dogs were fed with dry food or excessive amounts of food. Pavlov studied particular fibres called nerves that carry the sensations of the body through the creation of motions through out the body. He concluded that the rhythm and the capacity of the heart muscles are controlled by a set of four nerves. Currently, it is scientifically accepted that the heart is controlled by the vagus and sympathetic nerves that produce the effects observed by Pavlov.

The second phase of his studies was (1888-1902). During this phase, he concentrated the study of nerves that directed the digestive system. He discovered that the nerves connected to the pancreas are the ones that control the flow of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls the digestion of sugars and other starches. He also discovered during this period the nerves that control the stomach glands. For these two discoveries, Pavlov received a Noble Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

The final phase of his study was (1902-1936). He studies were on the conditional reflexes of the brain. He made an observation that his laboratory dogs secrete saliva and other gastric juices before food was given to them. The sight of food, the odour and the footsteps made his laboratory dogs to secrete saliva. He made an observation that the dog's response was in relation to their feeding. He termed the response of the dogs to the meat as conditional reflexing (Todes, 2000). Conditional reflex is a learned behaviour. It occurs when an individual is responding to an external stimulus. This is different from the unconditional reflex, which is controlled by the body. For example, the pupil of the eye gets smaller when an individual looks at a bright light. This is because this happens in a more automatic way. He made several prominent publications on conditional reflexes. He made a further discovery that the condition could be removed temporarily if not reinforced. The condition needs to be on a regular basis to ensure that the conditional reflexes work. In addition, in the year 1918, Pavlov had the opportunity to study several cases of mental illnesses. He made a discovery on a certain kind of illness known as schizophrenia. This is an extremely serious mental illness caused by the weakening of the brain cells. He believed that the illness was a response to protect the brain cells that were already weak. His last scientific article was published in the chief medical encyclopaedia in the year 1934 (Saunders, 2006). In this article, he clearly discusses that there are two systems of nerve fibres. He states that the first fibre is responsible to receive signals form the external stimuli while the second one is to return the signals to the brain. He concluded that human beings have both the two nervous systems. The second system deals with the interpretation of the signals from the first one to thoughts and responses. This work is in line to Poppers work he believed that the world exists in three forms, and the third form is where the scientific discoveries are classified. He believes that the truths of scientific discoveries can be drawn without the need of publications as it can be easily observed. Popper confined scientific discoveries to the study of epistemology which is the study of scientific products. Psychology is conceived as the science of behaviour related to the study of behaviourism. Behaviourism is testable and designed to be different form subjectivism.

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