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Biology, Everyday science experiments, Learning, Psychology

Oh the drool!

I think about Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov surprisingly often. Every time my palm starts sweating before the physio comes to see me I think about Pavlov and his discovery of classical conditioning. But given that Pavlov’s original discovery involved salivating dogs, he has been even more present in my thoughts as I am often confronted by the following image these days.

A drooling dog
Somebody’s thinking about food

Hera recognizes the bag that holds the food we use as treats throughout the day. Just the sight of it can trigger some pretty excessive drooling and that is very Pavlovian.

Pavlov was studying salivation in dogs. He anticipated that the dogs would salivate when food was placed in front of them but noticed that shortly into the study the dogs would actually start salivating when they heard the footsteps of the assistants who were bringing the food. The footsteps should be a neutral stimulus but the dogs had learned that the footsteps were connected to food so they triggered the same response as the food alone.

To examine this further, Pavlov designed an experiment to test this “classical conditioning”. He would ring a bell before the dog got food. The bell should be a neutral sound, one that doesn’t mean anything to the dogs, but over time the dogs connected the sound of the bell to food and therefore began to salivate at the sound of the bell.

This is the rational behind clicker training an animal. A clicker is a small device that you can click. When you start clicker training you connect the sound to getting a treat so that the clickerbecomes associated with the positive of the treat. Over time you can click more and treat less often because the animal has connect the two.

If you have an animal you may see some of these responses. Perhaps your cat comes running when they hear a can open? or your dog magically appears when you take their leashoff the hook? Or maybe you’ve trained your rabbit to enjoy being in a carrier? These are all examples of classical conditioning.

Going back to my physio appointments, the treatment I receive triggers a stress response in my body, so I have now been conditioned that my body will go into a stress response at the approach of my physio. This happens to non-human animals too when they associate vet trips with unpleasantness.

I have been working to retrain my body’s response to the physio but I’m afraid that knowing the reasons behind the strings of drool coming out of the dogs mouth does nothing for how unpleasant I find it.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


One thought on “Oh the drool!

  1. Beautiful


    Posted by thomgiver | December 14, 2020, 11:02 am

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