Pavlov’s Discovery

In this section I will discuss step-by-step the ramifications of what Pavlov discovered and why this changes everything we know about animal consciousness. I didn’t arrive at these understandings of Pavlov by way of any discussion on Pavlov. Rather, from coming to understand the nature of emotion and the role that emotion plays in the behavior of animals (Emotion–Unresolved Emotion–Resolved Emotion) has led me to see that an animal’s sense of reality derives not from what actually happens, but due to what physical memory (Unresolved Emotion) is being triggered by what happens.

1) Quote from Simonov (student of Pavlov): “Positive emotions arising in connection with the perfection of a skill, irrespective of its pragmatic significance at a given moment, serve as the reinforcement.”

In other words; emotion, not reinforcements, are actually what reinforce any given behavior.

2) Pavlov discovered that a dog feels viscerally, i.e. physically, connected to what it is attracted to. In other words, a dog feels that what it feels internally is what causes things to happen externally.

3) Pavlov discovered that emotion is object oriented. This is evidenced most clearly by the fact that the strongest emotional responses are elicited by external objects (prey/play/mate/offspring/toy). External stimuli trigger visceral, autonomic responses over which an animal has no control and satisfying the internal void (physical/sexual/social appetite) thus engendered requires an external object. An internal void such as a state of hunger is emotionally destabilizing and can only be satisfied with an object of attraction. Therefore because emotion requires an object, emotion is a state of attraction.

4) Pavlov discovered that because external objects of attraction can be imprinted on basic visceral processes, it is magical thinking to think that the earliest imprints of infancy mitigate over time. The earliest imprints must magnify with every experience and therefore constitute the substrate of an animal’s cognitive processes.


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Published April 25, 2011 by Kevin Behan

8 responses to “Pavlov’s Discovery”

  1. Hi Kevin,

    I’ve always liked that quote. I even reprinted it in the back section of my 6th novel. For years I thought it was written by Pavlov, but it wasn’t. It’s been disseminated as such on various websites, but it was Pavlov’s student Simonov, not Pavlov himself who wrote that statement in the abstract of a 1990 study he (Simonov) did on hypnosis in rabbits.

    Neurosci Behav Physiol. 1990 May-Jun;20(3):230-5.
    “Reflexes of purpose and freedom” in the comparative physiology of higher nervous activity.
    Simonov PV.

    Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology, Academy of Sciences, Moscow.

    The most complex unconditioned “reflexes of aim and freedom,” discovered by I.P. Pavlov, are compared with the “competence drive” and the “motivation of the resistance to coercion,” respectively, described by contemporary ethologists. On the basis of the unconditioned “reflex of purpose,” conditioned reflexes were developed in which positive emotions arising in connection with the perfection of a skill, irrespective of its pragmatic significance at a given moment, serve as the reinforcement. The unconditioned “reflex of freedom” is regarded as a phylogenetic precursor of the will, and its acute extinction as the physiological mechanism of hypnosis. It was demonstrated experimentally that the appearance of the state of “animal hypnosis” (immobilization catatonia) in rabbits is accompanied by the predominance of electrical activity and heat production in the right hemisphere, i.e., by symptoms which are found in hypnosis in man.

    I still think the quote is right on the money, but thought you’d like to know its true provenance.

    By the way, Simonov seems to have worked closely with Stanislavsky of the Moscow Art Theater, who developed the “Stanislavsky Method.” It was Stanislavsky (perhaps along with Simonov) who discovered the direct connection between physical and emotional memory.


  2. kbehan says:

    Thanks Lee, that’s the problem I guess with relying on web sites as reference. But then again look at how the web is self-organizing!

  3. christine randolph says:

    its not actually the reinforcement/emotion/stimulus response that poses the problem for dealing with animals.

    the problem is when reinforcement is given in a seemingly (to the human) identical situation and the response the animal gives is NOT the same.

    bringing the animal back to the emotional state where they will reliably respond as per previously practiced behaviour is the tricky part,

    i.e. dog will not go in crate,hesitant even though stimulus is in crate. food,
    fear of having entire body in crate

    trying to get food out without actually remaining in crate.
    once dog has somehow been lured into crate, dog loves crate and will go in over and over in the same training session.

    next training session. back to initial hesitation, once the dog is in the flow, going into the crate is not a problem.. and so on.

    so here is where Kevin’s emotional theory kicks in and seems plausible. i.e. behaviour will NOT occur until such time that dog is in required emotional state as well as stimulus being present.

  4. I once worked with a great Dane who was hesitant about going inside his crate until I went in first. That was a game changer. As soon as I went inside he had no hesitation. He came right in after me and tried to lie on top of me!

    Strangely enough, my current student, who’s much smaller than I am, did this too, on her own, with a shiba inu mix. She went inside his crate and he followed her in.


  5. christine randolph says:

    yes Freddie can be lured by owner’s body.
    i did it to get him through the tunnel

    i would go in the tunnel
    he would come in behind me, trample all over me and get out before me.

    nowadays he goes through the tunnel on his own. sigh of relief.
    i am slightly too old to go into tunnels every time

    the crate is too small for me to go in
    if it were a wire mesh crate and i would stand behind it pushing a bone half way in, it would work better

    it is a plastic crate
    Freddie has some Great Dane in him

    another way to do it is to grab the collar and accelerate him. there are times when he totally gets that.
    not always. what the heck. dogs can be in the mood or not like everyone else

  6. john says:

    ” a dog feels that what it feels internally is what causes things to happen externally”.
    Could you expand on that a little more Kevin ,apart from only giving a dog attention or taking him out when he calm, where else can it be used

    Its a phrase which has only struck me today, and im not sure of the full implications of it,thanks

  7. kbehan says:

    I use it a lot in the bark-on-command exercise. This induces the dog to focus and exert energy from his deep gut and thus the dog gets the experience of moving a lot of energy without having to act, this then comes in handy when the dog gets stuck in social contexts. The dog learns that if he focuses on his deep gut (source of the social brain) he can calm the source of pressure. It’s all a biofeedback loop. If two dogs focus on their deep gut, they will differentiate from each other and thus can fit together. So the dog is learning that where he focuses his energy within his body controls what is going on around him, and sure enough the other dog responds in a complementary way and this reinforces the pattern.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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