Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born on September 14, 1849 at Ryazan. Even during his early study period, he showed a lot of interest in physiology. In 1891-1900, at the Institute of Experimental Medicine, Pavlov did a lot of research on the physiology of digestion.
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During his study of the reflex regulation of the activity of the digestive glands, he focused on the phenomenon of psychic secretion (caused by food stimuli at a distance from the animal). In 1903, at the 14th International Medical congress in Madrid, he spoke about classical conditioning. However, it should be said there were a few others before Pavlov who had made contributions about classic conditioning. These include Edwin Burket Twitmyer, William Beaumont, and others. Based on their findings, Pavlov was able to consolidate his own findings on classic conditioning.
Edwin Burket Twitmyer
The classical origins of conditioning can be traced to Edwin Burket Twitmyer (1873-1943) when he made the discovery of the “knee-jerk” reflex. This was elicited by tapping the patellar tendon with a doctor’s hammer (Clark, 2004).
Just before he tapped the patellar tendon with the hammer, Twitmyer sounded a bell. He then measured how far the leg jerked. At one point, he accidentally sounded the bell without tapping the tendon, and the knee jerked although no stimulation was given to the tendon. He thus, accidentally stumbled on the “knee-jerk” reflex (Appstate.edu, 1998).
While Pavlov described the results of his conditioning experiments in 1904, Twitmyer reported his discovery in his doctoral dissertation in 1902 at the University of Pennsylvania. He presented his paper at the meeting of the American Psychological Association in 1904, but unfortunately, his paper received little attention at that time, and he therefore, did not pursue his initial experiments (Rosenzweig, 1960).
It was in 1903, at the 14th International Medical congress in Madrid that Pavlov first presented a talk about classical conditioning. However, well before this, the credit for the first person to experiment on the psychic stimulation of the salivary and gastric glands should go to William Beaumont (1785-1853).
William Beaumont, who was a U.S Army surgeon at Fort Mackinac, on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, is known as the “Father of gastric physiology.” He gave an account of psychic secretions of gastric juices in a man called Alexia St. Martin, whom he treated for a bullet wound in the abdomen (Finger, 2001).
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He observed that the man’s stomach was lacerated through all its layers. Beaumont took a silk string and attached pieces of food to the end of the string. Later, by pulling out the string at one, two, and three-hour intervals, Beaumont was able to observe the rate of digestion.
Five hours later, he removed gastric juice from the man’s stomach, and observed the rate of digestion of a piece of corned boiled beef. Many years later, he conducted further experiments (James.com, 2006).
Zwaardemaker & Lans
Again, much before Pavlov mentioned his conditioning experiments, Zwaardemaker & Lans, 1899, published a study of classical eye blink conditioning in a German physiology journal. The classic eye blink conditioning studies provided a faster, more accessible somatic nervous system response when compared to the slower, difficult-to-measure autonomic nervous system responses like gastric secretions (Lavond & Steinmetz, 2003).
Although much credit for discovering classic conditioning goes to Pavlov, it was Edwin Burket Twitmyer who first stumbled on the origins of conditioning through the “knee-jerk” reflex.
Again, the credit for the first person to experiment on the psychic stimulation of the salivary and gastric glands should go to William Beaumont.
Zwaardemaker & Lans, 1899, published a study of classical eye blink conditioning in a German physiology journal, much before Pavlov.
Appstate.edu (1998). The Tale of Loneome E. B. Twitmyer. 2008. Web.
Clark, RE (2004). The classical origins of Pavlov’s conditioning. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science. 39:4: 279-294.
Finger, S (2001). Origins of Neuroscience: A History of Explorations Into Brain Function. Oxford University Press.
James.com (2006). Life of Dr. William Beaumont. 2008. Web.
Lavond, DG, Steinmetz, JE (2003). Handbook of Classical Conditioning. Springer.
Rosenzweig, MR (1960). Pavlov, Bechterev, and Twitmyer on Conditioning. The American Journal of Psychology. 73: 2.