Critical Response

Pavlov's work on conditioned reflexes earned him international scientific recognition and great prestige in his homeland; as Russia's only Nobel Prize-winning scientist in a field, physiology, that was highly regarded by the Communist government, he was considered a national treasure. But as a physiologist working in the realm of psychology, he faced some unique challenges within the scientific community. Ironically, however, Pavlov's psychological theories have stood the test of time more readily than have his physiological theories of brain function.

In Conditioned Reflexes, Pavlov discussed "the close connection between physiology and psychology," something he recognized that many psychologists in

Russia and America did not acknowledge or appreciate:

I am convinced that an important stage in the development of human thought is approaching, a stage when the physiological and the psychological, the objective and the subjective, will really merge, when the painful contradiction between our mind and our body and their contraposition will either actually be solved or disappear in a natural way.

Of course, advances in neurological research and imaging have provided a much clearer understanding of the workings of the frontal lobes and other sections of the brain about which Pavlov theorized. He was correct in his assessment that the subcortex region of the brain regulated autonomic and instinctual functioning. Later re-searchers have found that conditioning of some subcortical functions may also be possible.

While Pavlov was partially right in his supposition that the frontal lobes were involved in processing language (the "second signal"), researchers now know that the temporal lobes are primarily responsible for language recognition (left temporal lobe) and speech (right temporal lobe).

Among his contemporaries, Polish researcher Jerzy Konorski criticized certain aspects of Pavlov's physiological work. Konorski was actually a student in Pavlov's lab from 1931 to 1933. He had a strong research interest in the concept of association and the relationship between stimuli and responses. But Konorski found Pavlov's concepts of diffuse inhibitions and theoretical waves of cortical excitation and inhibition centers speculative and inconsistent with his knowledge of neuron theory. Yet the Polish scientist was respectful of Pavlov's contributions to conditioning theory, and he dedicated his 1948 book, Conditioned Reflexes and Neuron Organization, in part to Pavlov.

In 1937 Konorski published a paper with S. Miller to present their ideas on classical versus instrumental conditioning to the growing behaviorism movement in America. They had trained a dog to lift its foot in response to a cue in order to receive a food reward. Konorski and Miller explain that "[i]n conditioned reflexes of the first type, the reaction is effected by organs innervated through the central or autonomic nervous system, while, in conditioned reflexes of the second type, the effector can probably be only a striate muscle." In other words, the conditioning was formed through the conscious actions of the dog itself, not through external stimuli triggering a reflex, as Pavlov had surmised. Konorski also developed the idea of avoidance conditioning in later works.

Some additional concepts about the interrelationship between stimuli in conditioning that have been

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