Roger K. Thomas (1994) Pavlov Used a Bell. Psycoloquy: 5(63) Pavlov Bell (2)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 5(63): Pavlov Used a Bell

Commentary on Littman on Pavlov-Bell

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


Littman (1994) followed up Catania's (1994) about query 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 likely attributable to V.M. Bekhterev and John B. Watson. Pavlov used a bell in an experiment reported in 1923 and retracted in 1927. It is unclear whether Littman's argument is affected.


conditioning, Watson, Bekhterev, behaviorism, Pavlov
1. In Science (1923), Pavlov published the following:

    The latest experiments (which are not yet finished) show that the
    conditioned reflexes, i.e., the highest nervous activity, are
    inherited. At present some experiments on white mice have been
    completed. Conditioned reflexes to electric bells are formed, so
    that the animals are trained to run to their feeding place on the
    ringing of the bell. The following results have been obtained.

    The first generation of white mice required 300 lessons. Three
    hundred times it was necessary to combine the feeding of the mice
    with the ringing of the bell in order to accustom them to run to
    the feeding place on hearing the bell ring. The second generation
    required, for the same result, only 100 lessons. The third
    generation learned to do it after 30 lessons. The fourth generation
    required only 10 lessons. The last generation which I saw before
    leaving Petrograd learned the lesson after 5 repetitions. The sixth
    generation will be tested after my return. I think it very probable
    that after some time a new generation of mice will run to the
    feeding place on hearing the bell with no previous lesson (Pavlov,
    1923, pp. 360-361).

Razran (1958) and McClearn (1963) also quoted the above and reported that Pavlov retracted the experiments in Anrep's (1927) translation of Pavlov's Conditioned Reflexes. A footnote on page 285 was a retraction of the mice/bell experiment, but the bell was not mentioned. It was also noted that the experiments had been communicated briefly at the Edinburgh International Congress of Physiology (1923) (p. 285), but it was not noted that they had also been communicated briefly in four articles published in English in 1923.

2. The material quoted above was the whole and the most complete of the published accounts of the mice/bell experiments. Pavlov's account of these experiments was a minor part (in terms of number of words) of more extensive addresses. The 1923 Science article, the source of the quotation above, was an address at the Battle Creek Sanitarium on July 7, 1923. According to Razran (1958), the address was also published in the Bulletin of the Battle Creek Sanitarium (1923, 19, 1). On July 5, 1923, Pavlov had given a somewhat different address at the University of Chicago that included a similarly abbreviated account of the mice/bell experiment. The Chicago address was published in Scientific Monthly in 1923. Further, according to Razran (1958, p. 759), "The Edinburgh address, identical with the one given in Chicago, was published in the transactions of the congress in the 1923 Supplement Volume of the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (pp. 39-43)."

3. Pavlov's Battle Creek Sanitarium address appeared in the November 9, 1923, issue of Science. An item that appeared in the July 20, 1923, issue of Science in the Scientific Events section may bear on Littman's thesis. According to the report, "Few persons knew [Pavlov] was in the country, for if they had he would have been welcomed by scientists here as a celebrated physiologist" (p. 45). Perhaps relevant to this claim, the same news report noted that Pavlov and his son, Vladimir, were seated in a train in Grand Central Station in New York City, when they were "set upon" by three men who robbed them of their money and passports. The report continued that they were "perplexed as to what they should do in their predicament...[and] finally got in touch with Dr. P.A. Levene of the Rockefeller Institute, and since then have been the guests of the institute" (p. 45). It was also reported that the British consulate would not reissue their British visas and that Pavlov "will not be able to attend the Edinburgh Congress of Physiologists where his presence was desired by fellow scientists" (p. 45). The Pavlovs were to sail from New York to France where "after a short stay... [they] will return to Russia" (p. 45).

4. Razran (1958) noted that the latter report needed to be emended as follows:

    ...the Central Government in London yielded to protests
    from American and British scientists and finally granted him the
    visa while he was on the high seas. (p. 760)

Razran reported that Pavlov's address was read in English by his son before a large Edinburgh audience while (according to other sources cited by Razran) Pavlov stood nearby, following every word, and occasionally nodding and muttering his assent.

5. It appears that Pavlov's mice/bell experiment was reasonably well known, but in view of the subsequent retraction, it might have provided a poor recommendation for the bell as a CS. How all this bears on Littman's thesis is unclear.

REFERENCES (Only those independently consulted)

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

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

McClearn, G.E. (1963). Inheritance of behavior. In L. Postman (Ed.). Psychology in the Making: Histories of Selected Research Problems (pp. 144-252). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Pawlow, I.P. (1923). The identity of inhibition with sleep and hypnosis. Scientific Monthly, 17, 603-608.

Pawlow, I.P. (1923). New researches on conditioned reflexes. Science, 58, 359-361.

Pavlov, I.P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes. (G. V. Anrep, Trans.). London: Oxford University Press (Original work published in 1926).

Professor Pavlov's visit to America. (1923). Science, 58, pp. 45-46.

Razran, G. (1958). Pavlov and Lamarck. Science, 128, 758-760.

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