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Although trained as a physician Pavlov always worked as an experimental laboratory scientist. He only had contact with patients at the end of his career. Under the influence of the well known clinician Sergei Petrovich Botkin he developed a commitment to nervous, as opposed to humoral explanations for bodily functions. By 1883 he had developed his theory of “nervism” which he defined as a physiological theory which tries to prove that the nervous system controls the greatest possible number of bodily functions. With the development of aseptic methods of surgery at that time, Pavlov was able to develop surgical methods for physiological research. One of his teachers, Heidenham, had previously made a stomach pouch from which he could obtain pure gastric juice free from food but in the formation of the pouch Heidenham had destroyed the nerve supply to the pouch. Pavlov had a great skill as an experimental surgeon. He developed a small part of the stomach, the “Pavlov pouch” as well as chronic external salivary, biliary, and pancreatic fistulae for his fundamental study of gastric physiology, publication of which won him the Nobel Prize in 1904. Pavlov demonstrated that secretory nerve fibres of the pancreas and stomach were in the vagus nerve.
With his later work on conditioned reflexes (1912), the effect sensory or psychic stimuli have on reflex actions, Pavlov showed that stimuli such as a musical note, a bright colour, a strong odour, skin stimuli, or an electric shock if previously associated with the sight of food, caused salivation. At the sound of a given note this would cease if the note was raised or lowered even by a quarter tone. Pavlov thought that the conditional or acquired reflexes were associated with different areas of the cerebral cortex. This led to a new psychology oriented school of physiology and stimulated ideas of many aspects of human behaviour being the result of conditioning. In his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for his work on digestive physiology in 1904, Pavlov chose to speak on his work on conditioned reflexes.
Pavlov further extended this sphere of his research interest into human psychophysiology and psychopathology. In the late 1920s he began making observations on patients in a psychiatric hospital and attempted to explain disorders that he saw in terms of his work on conditioning.
Pavlov criticised communism and in 1922 requested and was refused permission to move his laboratory abroad. After expulsion of priests’ sons from the Medical Academy, Pavlov, who was also the son of a poor village priest and himself a former seminary student resigned in protest from the Chair of Physiology but his research continued to be supported by State funds.
Pavlov has been philatelically honoured on several occasions. He is shown here on a Russian stamp of 1991 (Stanley Gibbons 6253, Scott 5999) in a series commemorating Russian winners of the Nobel Prize.
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