Ivan Pavlov’s Dogs

Dr. Ivan Pavlov was able to establish these ideas by observing the irregular secretions of nonanesthetized dogs. Pavlov initially began studying digestion in dogs by measuring the amount of saliva that the animals had when both edible and nonedible items were introduced.

Eventually, he began to notice that the dogs would begin salivating every time an assistant entered the room. Believing that the animals were responding to the white coats the assistants wore, Pavlov hypothesized that this production of saliva was actually in response to a certain stimulus, and that these dogs were associating the white coats with the presentation of food. Furthermore, Pavlov noted, the production of saliva that occurred when food was presented to the dogs was an unconditioned reflex, while the production of saliva that was a result of the dogs seeing the white coats was a learned, or conditioned, reflex. To dig deeper into his findings, Pavlov set out to create one of the most famous scientific experiments of all time: Pavlov’s dogs. 


  1. The test subjects in this conditioned response experiment are laboratory dogs.
  2. First, an unconditioned stimulus must be chosen. In this experiment the unconditioned stimulus is food, which will evoke a natural and automatic response: salivation. For a neutral stimulus, the experiment utilizes the sound of a metronome.
  3. Observing the subjects prior to conditioning reveals that saliva is generated when the dogs are exposed to food, and no saliva is generated when the dogs are exposed to the sound of the metronome.
  4. To begin the process, the subjects are repeatedly exposed to the neutral stimulus (the sound of the metronome) and are immediately presented with the unconditioned stimulus (food).
  5. Over a period of time, the subjects will begin to equate the sound of the metronome to the delivery of food. The longer the experiment progresses, the more deeply ingrained the conditioning will become.
  6. After the conditioning phase is completed, the neutral stimulus (the metronome) will cause the subjects to begin salivating in anticipation of food, regardless of whether or not food is presented. Salivation has become a conditioned response.

Classical Conditioning: Learning by Association

Classical conditioning was Ivan Pavlov’s most famous and influential work, and it laid much of the groundwork...

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Even though he is most well known in popular culture for his famous dogs, the importance of Pavlov’s research goes far beyond the production of saliva. His revelations on conditioning and learned responses have played a major role in understanding behavioral modification in humans, and in advancing the treatment of such mental health issues as panic disorders, anxiety disorders, and phobias.