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Photo Credit: *King of the Ants* via Compfight cc
Most people are familiar with the psychologist Pavlov and his drooling dogs but who really knows the intimate history of how he figured out that he could make dogs salivate when he made a particular noise?
In spite of Pavlov’s dogs being a staple subject in Psychology introductory lectures everywhere, Ivan Pavlov wasn’t a psychologist at all. He was a physiologist studying doggie digestion and noticed that his dogs would start salivating whenever his assistant would enter the room.  In his original research he was trying to figure out how much dogs would salivate when they were presented with different types of foods – whilst throwing in some non-food items every so often to mix things up. After he noticed that the dogs were not salivating due to an automated physiological process, Pavlov began to formulate his conditioning theory.

But wait, why were they salivating when the research assistants came into the room? Were these dogs bloodthirsty pooches that had a taste for novice scientists? As it turns out, this wasn’t quite the case. The research assistants were the people who would be in charge of feeding the dogs so when the canines saw the white coats; they would associate this with food and in turn salivate. Ever the scientist at heart, the challenge now for Pavlov was to figure out where the causal relationship was. He was curious to know whether it was innate or whether the dogs would develop their salivation response through a social process.  The way that he structured the new experiment was to use a metronome which would tick in order to give the dogs a stimulus for salivation. One factor which he changed (thankfully) was that he started only giving the dogs’ real food as a treat in the experiment. What Pavlov found was that the dogs would salivate when they would hear the metronome and they could do this independent of any food being presented which indicated that it was a reflex based on association. This research was the basis for psychological testing methods of having a conditioned stimulus which provokes a conditioned response. What Pavlov found has come to be known as classical conditioning.

Pavlov’s research has had impact in a range of areas and fields, most notably in an environment where livestock is kept, farmers found that if predator species tasted certain foods and had a negative response, they would be much less likely to do the action again. One farm left poisoned meat around for coyotes to eat which would cause nausea in the animals. This strategy was widely successful and resulted in the coyotes avoiding the herds of sheep completely in order to avoid risking becoming ill again. Pavlov’s research on classical conditioning, although indirect, has influenced the field of psychology greatly and is still used to this day by psychologists across the globe.