Do you have a best friend? Does he or she have lots of fur and four paws? There’s a reason why dogs are called man’s best friend. They’re loyal and fun to play with, as well as cute and furry all at the same time!
But did you know that dogs can also be scientists? Well…maybe not the ones doing the actual scientific research, but some dogs have become famous for their part in scientific discovery. Take Pavlov’s dogs, for example. Have you ever heard of them? They’re famous for drooling!
Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who did scientific research during the late nineteenth century. One of his most famous discoveries happened by accident. He was using dogs to study reflexive or automatic behavior. In scientific terms, we call this unconditioned or unlearned behavior.
Specifically, Pavlov was measuring how much dogs would salivate (the polite word for drool) when given food. The food was called an unconditioned stimulus, and the drool was an unconditioned response. Salivating when given food was an automatic, unlearned behavior in dogs.
This was not a surprise to Pavlov. What was a surprise, though, was something else he noticed. Over time, he observed that the dogs would begin to salivate when exposed to a stimulus that they had learned to associate with being fed. Examples included the appearance of his laboratory assistant and the ringing of a bell just before the food was presented.
In other words, the dogs would begin to drool when they saw his laboratory assistant or heard a bell ring. This was a surprise to Pavlov, because the dogs would drool even if there was no food present. They had learned to expect food upon seeing his laboratory assistant or hearing a bell ring, and these events triggered salivation even before food appeared.
Pavlov was amazed with his discovery. He was not expecting that the dogs’ behavior could be conditioned (learned) by associating a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus. Over time, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that produces a conditioned response, which is the same as the unconditioned response.
Pavlov’s studies were some of the first studies of the basic laws of learning. These basic facets of learning have thus come to be known as classical conditioning. Pavlov’s studies form the basis of some of the most fundamental principles of modern psychology.
Pavlov’s studies gave scientists a new framework for studying behavior in both animals and humans. Classical conditioning has helped thousands of scientists better understand how the human mind works.
It has also helped to treat certain behavioral problems, such as debilitating phobias. For example, a fear of spiders might be treated by pairing thoughts of spiders with relaxation techniques. Over time, the thought of spiders might become less scary as those thoughts are associated with relaxation.