accidental discoveries

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.


11 thoughts on “accidental discoveries

  1. alhoward says:

    2. As your question was ‘do the means justify the ends’, I am going to bring up the old and loveable topic of Milgram. Did his means justify the ends? Well, yes, I believe so.
    Milgrams research is considered highly unethical today, yet to think what his research found is incredible. If we had all the ethical guidelines at the time of this research, Milgram would never have carried out this research, and we would never know what we know today. Yes, he deceived his participants, yes he caused them harm and yes he made it difficult for them to withdraw, but as we all know, he was the first to debrief his participants so they were aware, harm caused was minimal and many agreed they were glad to have taken part. So although at the time, it was upsetting and distressing, even the participants were glad!! And imagine how the researchers felt, to find something so influential, (excuse the pun!) So what I am trying to get at, is often, yes the means do justify the ends.

  2. emu2468 says:

    Wow, I did not know that, thats really interesting. I am not entirely sure that I agree with your conclusion though. Ethical implications of that study would prevent him from actually publishing the findings if this was modern research, especially with human participants, because the debrief that had been given would have been wrong, and also that then leads into issues over informed consent. I know everyone hates ethics, but they are in place for a reason, and by todays standards writing about classical conditioning would not be the most ethical thing for Pavlov to have done.

  3. leilla92 says:

    hey i really liked your blog! it was easy to read and made sense. However in yourconcluding paragraph you mention how implications of the study have been huge in research ares, you could have included some examples of research here to back up your points. other than that great blog well done 🙂

  4. elrucron says:

    You have to remember that ethical guidelines are in place for a reason. Historically, the Nuremberg code (what the APA guidelines are based upon) took effect after the mistreatment of Jews by German physicians during the holocaust. This was a monumental step towards a civil society. We cannot cross our fingers and hope for the best when accidental discoveries are possible, but so unlikely. When we can replicate the same results in ways that agree with ethical guidelines, such risks are unnecessary.

  5. raw2392 says:

    Really interesting blog and I have to admit, I didn’t know that Pavlov discovered classical conditioning by accident! However, what a find it was! Classical conditioning is now drummed into us as psychology students, and I remember revisiting the theory constantly in A level. However, I have to agree with emu2468 and disagree with your conclusion, I would necessarily agree that all the best research has been found by accident and that we should stop wasting money on pre-planned investigations. If investigations were carried out this way they more money would be wasted trying to ‘accidently’ find something. Maybe Pavlov just got lucky with discovering something influential in psychology. With your point of whether the ends justify the means AlHoward makes a really good point with the Milgram study. The study in effect found out what it set to find out, and although people say the participants may have been harmed, video evidence has shown that although they may have been distressed, at the end of the study they were glad to have taken part. All the ethical guidelines were in place too… and many say that Milgram’s study implicated the guidelines the best that they have ever been implicated, especially his debriefing stages. Studies such as the Tuskegee Syphilis study ends did not justify the means, as many people were left to suffer and die. Overall a really good blog with interesting points and thought provoking arguments.

  6. liamjw91 says:

    Had no idea that Pavlov came up with his theory of classical conditioning purely by chance. This lends weight to the argument that researchers should be provided with funding no matter what they are researching because you never know what they might find.

    Another example of a major breakthrough being discovered by chance is the discovery by Alexander Fleming who found that penicilin was effective in fighting bacteria. This research has formed the building blocks for further work on antibiotics that have led to the huge advancement in medicine and the treatment of many illnesses.

    So what I’m saying is governments should always be providing researchers with money for experiments because until the research has been carried out we don’t know what impact it may have.

  7. camilia92 says:

    That was really interesting. However I do not think I agree with your conclusion completely. Yes you right that sometimes the best discoveries are accidental for example, Issac Newton(1696) was sitting next to tree whilst the apple dropped from the tree. He came up with the gravitation theory but simply observing the falling down apple. How cool is that. However as you said they are ‘’accidental’’ and I do not think we are really able to wait minutes hours maybe years for someone, for example discover the cure for the virus that is killing thousands of people? Can we take that risk of not discovering anything and letting people die? I think every research is beneficial (As it allows us to understand our behaviour), unless is really ridicules one. For example: Miligram obedience research was really important one to let us understand and realise that we all obey to authorities . Without this research no one could come up with the theory saying yes we do. As people when asked will say that they would not obey to anything. Therefore on this basics I think researchers are really important , even more important than ‘’accidental discovery’’ as they provide us with continuous information’s about humans. We do not have to wait for something to be explained by accident. 🙂

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