I have spent exactly 38 minutes trying to find a blog topic and have decided now to just get on with it. I’m going to talk about a dog, classical conditioning and accidental discoveries.
The question that seems to come up again and again in Psychology is, do the ends justify the means? This question usually comes up when discussing ethics, however, what if the results are completely unexpected?
A great example of an accidental discovery is Ivan Pavlov’s study that discovered, what we today call, classical conditioning. This refers to a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired: a response that is at first elicited by the second stimulus is eventually elicited by the first stimulus alone. Alternative definition: conditioning that pairs a neutral stimulus with a stimulus that evokes a reflex; the stimulus that evokes the reflex is given whether or not the conditioned response occurs until eventually the neutral stimulus comes to evoke the reflex.
Ivan Pavlov (1903) was studying digestion in dogs, I particular the link between dog slobber and digestion in the stomach. He realized that the stomach would not start digesting without saliva first being present, which meant that reflexes in the nervous system must closely link both processes. So he investigated whether external stimuli would cause the same effects. And began flashing lights and making noises, and discovered that after time these would cause the dog to produce saliva even in the absence of food.
The implications of this study have been huge in areas such as learning, therapy, treatments of disorders and substance misuse. The point I’m trying to make I guess, is that, today there is much talk about wasting funds on research that isn’t experimental, but sometimes the best discoveries have been by accident.