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Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov Photo

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born on 14th September 1849, in Ryazan, Russia. Being the son of a priest, Pavlov was made to attend the church school and a theological seminary at the same time. But Pavlov was more inspired by Charles Darwin and I.M. Sechenov, known as the father of Russian physiology, than his theology or religion.  In spite of much disapproval, Pavlov succeeded in studying chemistry and physiology at the University of St. Petersburg in 1875, finally earned his degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences. In 1883 he received his graduate dissertation on the centrifugal nerves of the heart from the Imperial Medical Academy in St. Petersburg.

In 1881, Pavlov met and married a pedagogical student Seraphima Vasilievna Karchevskaya. The couple was broke at their time of marriage and stayed apart during the first few years of married life to save money. Their firstborn, a son, died suddenly while he was still a child, but they went on to have three more sons and a daughter.

Discovering Physiology

After graduation from the Imperial Medical Academy, Pavlov was first taken under the wings of cardiovascular physiologist Carl Ludwig in Germany and later apprenticed with the gastrointestinal physiologist Rudolf Heidenhain in Poland. While working with Heidenhain, Pavlov successfully operated on a dog to create an out-of-body “pouch” on the dog’s stomach and keep it functioning with nerve supply in order to study its gastrointestinal secretions. After this he spent two years at a laboratory in St. Petersburg, studying how blood pressure is regulated in the body and cardiac physiology.

In view of his excellent work, Pavlov was appointed the head of the Department of Physiology at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in 1890. Pavlov also served as Professor of Pharmacology at the Imperial Medical Academy, and five years later he took charge of its vacant Chair of Physiology. While holding such high offices, Pavlov was still engaged in experimenting on dogs. His main focus was on the secretory system of digestion in dogs. He implanted fistulas in their salivary ducts to study the functions of the nervous system on their digestive process.

It was this experiment based research which led Pavlov’s to understand the idea of conditioned reflex. His most famous experiment of the time involved him sounding a tone just before he fed the dogs; this conditioned them to start salivating at the sound of the tone even if no food was served. Pavlov published this research and its results in 1903, and later that year delivered a lecture on “The Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology of Animals” at the 14th International Medical Congress in Madrid, Spain.

Later Years

In later life, Pavlov used his research to the study of psychosis, pointing out that some individuals avert routine interaction with others due to the presence of external stimuli with a harmful event. Although he openly disregarded psychology as an imaginary field of science, his research did help lay the groundwork of several important concepts of psychology.

Awards and Achievements

This is the very research for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1904. In 1907 by the popular vote he was elected Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1912, the Cambridge University awarded him an honorary doctorate. In 1915, on the recommendation of the Medical Academy of Paris, he was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honour.

Pavlov was a strong critique of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and its aftermath and became embroiled with much complications due to his aversion to Communism, more so after visiting the United States in the 1920s. The only reason why he escaped prosecution was due to him being one of Russia’s most eminent scientists. However, Pavlov’s tone changed towards his motherland for the better, maybe because of Russia’s increased support of scientific research. Ivan Pavlov died on 27th November 1936, in Leningrad due to complications caused by double pneumonia.

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