Ivan Pavlov
Researched and written by: Ed Peterson
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..

“Perfect as the wing of a bird may be, it will never enable the bird to fly if unsupported by the air. Facts are the air of science. Without them a man of science can never rise.”

“What can I wish to the youth of my country who devote themselves to science? Thirdly, passion. Remember that science demands from a man all his life. If you had two lives that would not be enough for you. Be passionate in your work and in your searching.” 


            Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born in the small town of Ryazan, Russia on September 14th, 1849 to a very religious family. His father was a priest and his mother was the daughter of a priest. He was the oldest of eleven children, six of which died during childhood. At the age of ten, Pavlov had a very serious fall that would put him in the care of his grandfather before he began his schooling at the age of eleven at Ryazan Ecclesiastical High School. His grandfather encouraged him to read and write down any comments or remarks he made on his readings. This technique led him to a lifelong dedication to the technique of systematic observation.

            In 1881, Pavlov married Seraphima Vasilievna Karchevskaya who was a teacher and the daughter of a doctor in the Black Sea fleet. She first had a miscarriage supposedly caused by having to run after her very fast-walking husband. Later they had a son, Wirchik, who died very suddenly as a child. Following Wirchik, they had three sons, Vladimir, Victor and Vsevolod. Vsevolod became a very well known physicist and professor of physics at Leningrad in 1925 (Babkin, 1949). They also had a daughter named Vera. Ivan Pavlov died in Leningrad on February 27, 1936.

            In 1890, Pavlov was invited to organize and help direct the Department of Physiology at the Institute of Experimental Medicine. Under his direction, which lasted about 45 years, this Institute became one of the most important centers of physiological research (Babkin, 1949). In 1890, Pavlov was selected as Professor of Pharmacology at the Military Medical Academy. Five years later, he was chosen to the then vacant Chair of Physiology, a position he held until 1925.

            It was at the Institute of Experimental Medicine during the years of 1891-1900 that Pavlov did the majority of his research on the physiology of digestion. With his method of research, Pavlov helped create for new advances in theoretical and practical medicine. He showed that the nervous system primarily controlled the digestive process, and this finding is the basis of modern physiology of digestion (Babkin, 1949). Pavlov showed the results of his research in physiology in lectures that he gave in 1895 and published under the title Lectures on the Function of the Principal Digestive Glands (1897).

            Pavlov's research in the physiology of digestion led him to create a science of conditioned reflexes. Conditioned reflexes had the most impact on the field of psychology of all of Pavlov’s works. In his study on the reflex regulation of the activity of the digestive glands, Pavlov paid close attention to the “psychic secretion,” which is caused by food stimuli at a distance from an animal (Babkin, 1949). By using this method, developed by his colleague D. D. Glinskii in 1895, Pavlov was able to perform experiments on the nature of these glands. A number of these experiments caused Pavlov to reject the subjective interpretation of “psychic” salivary secretion. This finding of conditioned reflexes made it possible to study all psychic activity objectively instead of subjectively.
            In 1903, at the 14th International Medical Congress in Madrid, Pavlov presented his paper on The Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology of Animals. In this paper the definitions of conditioned and other reflexes were given. Pavlov deduced three ideas for the theory of reflexes: the principle of determinism, the principle of analysis and synthesis, and the principle of structure. The development of these principles by Pavlov and his school helped towards the building-up of a scientific theory of medicine. Experiments done by Pavlov and his students showed that conditioned reflexes start in the cerebral cortex, which acts as the prime distributor and organizer of all activity of the organism and is responsible for the equilibrium of an animal (Babkin, 1949). Research in Pavlov's labs over the next few years showed for the first time the basic laws that govern the cortex of the brain hemispheres. Many physiologists were attracted to the difficulty of trying to develop Pavlov's basic laws governing the activity of the brain. The result of all this research was an integrated “Pavlovian” theory on higher nervous activity.

            In the early stages of his research, Pavlov received world recognition. In 1901, he was elected as a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1904, he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his research on digestion, and in 1907, he was elected Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences; in 1912, he was given an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University. In the next few years, honorary memberships of various different scientific societies. Finally, with the recommendation of the Medical Academy of Paris, Pavlov was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor (1915).
             As it was stated previously, Pavlov’s conditioned reflexes were a major contributor to the field of psychology.  Pavlov’s work and research was so influential that American psychologists had it translated to English so they could use it as a basis for their experiments (Babkin, 1949). As a result, experimental psychologists began to look at the new conditioned reflex methods for studying behavior at several academic centers in the United States. The uses of the conditioned reflex techniques originally developed by Pavlov have come to be one of the major methods used in studying brain-behavior relationships in modern psychology. Pavlov's contribution to this new psychology was at a very basic level and much of his earlier research regarding the results of his experiments were erroneous to the field of psychology. However, his contributions we now know were very important to the development of modern psychology.



Babkin, B.P. (1949). Pavlov: A Biography. Toronto, Canada: The University of Chicago Press.

Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S.E. (2004). A History of Modern Psychology. California:

           Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. pp. 273-282.



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