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Pavlov J Biol Sci. 1987 Jul-Sep;22(3):103-12.

Pavlov as a psychologist. A reappraisal.

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Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte 28223.


American psychologists are informed on Pavlov's work on conditional reflexes but not on the full development of his theory of higher nervous activity. This article shows that Pavlov's theory of higher nervous activity dealt with concepts that concerned contemporary psychologists. Pavlov used the conditioning of the salivary reflex for methodological purposes. Pavlov's theory of higher nervous activity encompassed overt behavior, neural processes, and the conscious experience. The strong Darwinian element of Pavlov's theory, with its stress on the higher organisms' adaptation, is described. With regard to learning, Pavlov, at the end of his scholarly career, proposed that although all learning involves the formation of associations, the organism's adaptation to the environment is established through conditioning, but the accumulation of knowledge is established by trial and error.

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