Ivan Pavlov: The Man who Studied Man’s Best Friend

Ivan Pavlov was born in Ryazan, Russia, on September 14th, 1849. The son of the village priest, Pavlov originally studied theology until 1870, when he abandoned his religious studies and attended the University of St. Petersburg to study physiology and chemistry.

From 1884 to 1886, Pavlov studied under renowned cardiovascular physiologist Carl Ludwig and gastrointestinal physiologist Rudolf Heidenhain. By 1890, Pavlov had become a skilled surgeon and took an interest in the regulation of blood pressure. Without the use of any anesthesia, Pavlov was able to almost painlessly insert a catheter into a dog’s femoral artery and record the impact that emotional and pharmacological stimuli had on blood pressure. However, Pavlov’s most influential research with dogs—classical conditioning—was yet to come.

From 1890 to 1924, Ivan Pavlov worked at the Imperial Medical Academy as a professor of physiology. In his first ten years at the academy, he began to turn his attention towards the correlation between salivation and digestion. Through a surgical procedure, Pavlov was able to study the gastrointestinal secretions of an animal during its life span within relatively normal conditions; and he conducted experiments to show the relationship between autonomic functions and the nervous system. This research led to the development of Pavlov’s most important concept, the conditioned reflex. By 1930, Pavlov had begun using his research on conditioned reflexes to explain human psychoses.

A response that becomes associated with a previously unrelated stimulus as a result of pairing the stimulus with another stimulus normally yielding the response.

Never Forget!

Though he was praised and supported by the Soviet Union, Pavlov was an outspoken critic of the government’s Communist regime and even denounced the government publicly in 1923, following a trip to the United States. When, in 1924, the government expelled the sons of priests at the former Imperial Medical Academy (which was then known as the Military Medical Academy in Leningrad), Pavlov, the son of a priest himself, resigned from his position as a professor. Dr. Ivan Pavlov died on February 27th, 1936, in Leningrad.

During his lifetime, the research of Dr. Pavlov was met with great praise. Here is a sampling of his achievements:

  • Elected as a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Science (1901)
  • Awarded a Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine (1904)
  • Elected Academician of the Russian Academy of Science (1907)
  • Awarded honorary doctorate at Cambridge University (1912)
  • Received the Order of the Legion of Honour from the Medical Academy of Paris (1915)