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Psychology D.E.A.R. moment – Pavlov’s dogs

Psychology D.E.A.R. moment – Pavlov’s dogs


Gabriela Zhelyazkova
Gabriela Zhelyazkova
Psychology D.E.A.R. moment – Pavlov’s...

Why Are Pavlov's Dogs Famous? | Wonderopolis

Year 13 psychology students were fully engaged during our recent Drop Everything And Read event on Wednesday. They read more deeply about Pavlov’s famous study into conditioning behaviour, known as Pavlov’s dogs. Pavlov conditioned dogs to associate food  with the sound of a bell so that they only had to hear the bell and then started to salivate. This is known as ‘classical conditioning’ in psychology and is used to explain how people (and animals) can be conditioned into or out of certain behaviours. This theory is also used to help treat phobias.

The Pavlov article revealed some shocking facts about the ethics and reliability of Pavlov’s work; it also exposed some myths. There was no bell, a metronome was used as the stimulus in his experiments. Pavlov’s lab used hundreds, possibly thousands of dogs which were collected for Pavlov by street thieves in St Petersburg. The dogs were poorly treated being starved for upto six days before the experiments and these would last for hours at a time. Some experiments involved conditioning the dogs using electric shocks or metal spikes as the stimulus. This shocking revelation of mistreatment goes against Pavlov’s assertion that the dogs were well treated: ‘normal, happy and long-lived’.

Another revelation from the article was that Pavlov used his dogs to produce canine gastric juice (from their stomachs) which was extracted, bottled and sold as a cure for indigestion! In 1929 the dogs produced 4,500 litres which was a profitable business

More shocking to his reputation as a serious scientist was the fact Pavlov also suppressed his results. The more dogs he conditioned, the more he realised that they actually responded in different ways due to their individual characters. Pavlov and his team identified 23 different personality types in the dogs and that they behaved differently on different occasions. But Pavlov was unable to come up with a personality theory to explain this, so he simply kept this aspect of research hidden. This has left us with the more simplistic view that the dogs were passive objects responding happily to the harmless bell conditioning stimulus. Our D.E.A.R. moment allowed Y13 students to see a more complex and unethical side to Pavlov’s famous research.

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