Conditioned Reflex

The living brain’s capacity can be measured by its ability to function in regulating the physical body. Arguably, the developed brain goes a step further and allow species (such as humans, cats and dogs) to associate between two or more concepts. This became the basis of measurement when it comes to determining someone’s IQ, or judging an animal’s ability to potentially be a service pet. One physiologist in particular was interested in finding the relationship between a body’s autonomy function and the nervous system, which led to one of the greatest concepts implemented worldwide in training: conditioned reflex.

The physiologist mentioned is none other than Ivan Pavlov, a Russian born on September 14th, 1849. He pursued theology before abandoning it to pursue physiology and chemistry in the University of St. Petersburg. Some of his greatest feats includes being awarded with the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1904 and awarded an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University in 1912.

In 1930, Pavlov already started his research on conditioned reflex, which can be defined as “a response that becomes associated with a previously related stimulus as a result of pairing the stimulus with another stimulus normally yielding a response”. The definition can be quite longwinded, so let’s take an example to better understand this concept.

Let’s say you instinctively cover your ears whenever you hear a loud sound. In most occasions, this loud sound is produced by your significant other swinging their fist onto the table. The conditioned reflex (or conditioned response) is when you instinctively cover your ears as you see their first swing.

Pavlov was able to prove this theory by conducting one his most notable experiments: “Pavlov’s Dogs”.

As you can see from the diagram above, the dogs are being trained to respond in a certain way when hearing the bell ring. Initially, the dogs do not salivate or react in any particular way when hearing the bell. They only salivate when seeing the food in front of them.

However, by exposing both stimulus at the same time for an extended period of time marked by the process “during conditioning”, the dogs are now associating (to an extent) that the bell ringing is a combined event with the food being brought up. This creates a conditioned response as marked by the process “after conditioning”.

This experiment has proven itself to be pivotal in laying down the foundation of psychology’s groundwork. This helped further development in assessing behavioural psychology and mental health research.


Kleinman, P. (2012). Psych 101. F+W Media.

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