Ivan Pavlov was a celebrated Russian physiologist and Nobel Prize winner who discovered the Conditioned Reflex but like many famous names from the country’s history, we seem to know very little about him. Of course we all know about the research that involved the fabled Pavlov’s dog but there is so much more to discover in our Ivan Pavlov biography.
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born in Ryazan, central Russia on September 26th 1849. His father was a priest who became keen for the young Ivan to follow him through the seminary and into a life of religious work.
For a while, the younger Pavlov followed his father’s wishes and enrolled at the Ryazan Ecclesiastical Seminary but after finally deciding that this life wasn’t of any real interest to him, he dropped out and enrolled at the University of St Petersburg where he studied natural sciences in his aim to become a physiologist.
Ivan showed great aptitude and was clearly of a standard far beyond that of his contemporaries as he achieved the degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences. He continued his studies however at the Academy of Medical Surgery and completed his doctorate in 1878.
Ivan Pavlov’s early work was his most celebrated as he sought to understand the gastric function of dogs. He did this by measuring the secretion of saliva and how it increased or decreased depending on certain factors – notably the introduction of food.
Pavlov dubbed this the psychic secretion and continued his work to learn more about the phenomenon.
The Conditioned Reflex
The study into the dog’s behaviour was originally intended to assess digestion but it took a different turn when he tested their reaction to external stimuli.
This is where the sound of a metronome became associated with feeding time causing the dogs to salivate. The psychic secretion now had a more technical and scientific name – the conditioned reflex.
As far as many outside observers are concerned, Ivan Pavlov had completed his life’s work at this point but his efforts certainly didn’t stop there.
His work continued and in 1904, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. His experiments did tend to centre around the reflex both in animals as well as children but he also made some significant scientific breakthroughs with his work and study into the digestive system
Later Life and Legacy
Ivan Pavlov lived to the age of 87 and it is said that he carried on working in his lab right up until his final days. He was clearly dedicated to his life’s work which was continued by Carl Jung and brought to a wider audience by the writings of John B.Watson.
If you need evidence of his dedication then you only need to consider the circumstances of his dying hours. Conscious and aware of his imminent passing it is claimed that Pavlov asked one of his students to sit with him to study and record his body’s reactions to every moment leading up to his death.
While this may be slightly macabre, it is a testament to the dedication of Ivan Pavlov to science.