Roger K. Thomas (1994) Pavlov's Dogs "dripped Saliva at the Sound of a Bell". Psycoloquy: 5(80) Pavlov Bell (4)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 5(80): Pavlov's Dogs "dripped Saliva at the Sound of a Bell"

Commentary on Littman on Pavlov-Bell

Roger K. Thomas
Department of Psychology
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-3013


Littman (1994) pursued Catania's (1994) query about whether Pavlov had ever used a bell as a conditioned stimulus (CS). Catania and Littman were unable to find evidence that Pavlov used a bell. Littman argued that the bell as the prototypical CS was probably attributable to V.M. Bekhterev and John B. Watson. Thomas (1994) commented that Pavlov used a bell in an experiment with mice reported in 1923 and retracted in 1927, but that it was unclear whether Littman's argument was affected. Davis (1994) supported Littman by arguing that since the bell was electric and the mouse experiment was operant, Littman's argument was preserved. I have since learned of three additional references to Pavlov's use of a bell that strongly challenge Littman's argument as supported by Davis.


conditioning, Watson, Bekhterev, behaviorism, Pavlov
1. In an approximately five-page article in Science, based on a report from the British Medical Journal of his Huxley lecture at Charing Cross Hospital in London on October 1, 1906, Pavlov (1906) mentioned the following:

    "From our experiments it is very evident that the intensity of the
    stimulation is of essential importance. In contradistinction to
    this we must state with regard to acoustic impressions that very
    powerful stimuli, such as the VIOLENT RINGING OF A BELL, were not,
    in comparison with weaker stimuli, quick to produce conditioned
    increase of function in the salivary glands. It must be supposed
    that powerful acoustic stimuli produce in the body some other
    important reaction which hinders the development of the salivary
    reaction" (p. 616; emphasis added).

Two paragraphs later, Pavlov noted, "Stimulation by musical sounds or by noise in general is remarkably convenient for determining the discriminating or analytical faculty of the nervous system of the dog" (p. 616). Therefore, it is clear that early on Pavlov found acoustic stimuli in general to be effective for salivary conditioning, although the "violent ringing of a bell" was problematic.

2. Pavlov continued to use a bell CS. An article in the July 23, 1923 issue of TIME, The Weekly Newsmagazine summarized Pavlov's research. After describing the operation that brought the duct of the salivary gland to the surface of the cheek, the report continued, "At regular feeding times a bell was rung, and after several repetitions it was found that the sound of the bell alone, without the food, stimulated the saliva. This process known as a 'conditioned reflex,' has been repeated in scores of forms by physiologists and psychologists on both animal and human subjects" (p. 21).

3. In terms of popularizing the impression that Pavlov used a bell as the prototypical CS, an article in TIME magazine in 1928 reported the following:

    "The process of changing an unconditioned reflex into a conditioned
    reflex was clearly demonstrated to an audience of psychiatrists at
    the Academy of Medicine last week, in a cinema entitled "The
    Mechanics of the Brain." The cinema showed dogs which dripped
    saliva at the sound of a bell..." (p. 20).

The film, Mechanics of the Brain, was a silent one (Schneider, 1970). Regarding its production and content, Nichtenhauser (1953) wrote the following:

    "In 1925-26... another outstanding film artist, the Russian,
    Vsevolod Pudovkin, tried his hand at directing Mechanics of the
    Brain, a feature-length film based upon Pavlov's work and
    apparently designed to serve as an elementary introduction to
    neurophysiology and neuropathology. Produced in Pavlov's laboratory
    in Leningrad, the film was made without a formal script, and
    although it contained occasional flashes of film genius, it was
    uneven in organization and presentation and, surprisingly, in
    places also unsatisfactory as to scientific methodology. Perhaps
    for these reasons, but certainly because of the dominant role of
    Pavlov's teachings in Soviet science, the subject was remade in
    1934-35, under the title The Nervous System, this time apparently
    supervised by the master himself. Greatly expanded in content and
    detail, comprising now five sections totaling fourteen reels, the
    series was again in the nature of a generally understandable basic
    presentation" (p. 46).

4. Pavlov used a bell CS and reported its use in English language publications as early as 1906 and in journals and magazines that can be assumed to have been read widely by psychologists. Apparently, the use of the bell-CS with dogs was portrayed in Pudovkin's film as highly effective. This film was listed in 1970 as being available from the British Film Institute, the Canadian Film Institute, and from Brandon Films, Inc, in New York City (Schneider, 1970) and presumably was widely available and seen throughout its existence. Thus, it appears that Littman's (1994) argument, supported by Davis (1994), that Watson and Bekhterev are more responsible than Pavlov for the prototypical view of the bell as CS is strongly challenged.


Catania, A.C. (1994). Query: Did Pavlov's Research Ring a Bell? PSYCOLOQUY Newsletter, Tuesday, June 7, 1994.

Conditioned Reflexes. (1928, March 19). TIME, THE WEEKLY NEWS- MAGAZINE, vol. 11, no. 12, p. 20.

Davis, H. (1994). Pavlov's Bell-less Status May Still Be Intact: Commentary on Thomas' "Pavlov Used A Bell". PSYCOLOQUY 5(76) pavlov-bell.8.davis.

Littman, R.A. (1994). Bekhterev and Watson Rang Pavlov's Bell: A Reply to Catania's Query. PSYCOLOQUY 5(49) pavlov-bell.1.littman.

Nichtenhauser, A. (1953). A Half-Century of Motion Pictures in Neurology. In A. Nichtenhauser, M.L. Coleman, and D.S. Ruhne (Eds.), FILMS IN PSYCHIATRY, PSYCHOLOGY, & MENTAL HEALTH (pp. 44-54). New York: Health Education Council.

Pavlov, I.P. (1923, July 23). TIME, THE WEEKLY NEWS-MAGAZINE, vol. 1, no. 21, pp. 20-21.

Pavlov, I.P. (1906). The Scientific Investigation of the Psychical Faculties or Processes in the Higher Animals. SCIENCE, 24, 613-619.

Schneider, J.M. (1970). FILMS IN THE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES: AN ANNOTATED CATALOG. Oklahoma City: Behavioral Sciences Media Laboratory.

Thomas, R.K. (1994). PAVLOV USED A BELL: Commentary on Littman on Pavlov-Bell. PSYCOLOQUY 5.63.pavlov.bell.2.thomas.

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