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Marxist Psychology and Ivan Pavlov

QUESTION: Marxist Psychology – The Role of Ivan Pavlov


Ivan Pavlov, like B.F. Skinner, believes that our mental processes result purely from physical causes and that behavior can be regulated. Pavlov concentrated his scientific studies on animal behavior, and he is perhaps best known for his experiments involving the salivation of dogs in response to auditory stimuli. Pavlov’s dogs at first salivated when a bell was ringing because they were eating at the same time. The dogs soon learned to salivate when they heard the bell even without the presence of food. These canine experiments led Pavlov to propose a theory of conditioned reflexes—animals can learn to respond in specific, predetermined ways when exposed to certain stimuli.

Marxist Psychology – Behaviorism and Conditioned Reflexes
Pavlov concluded that all animal activity could be accounted for in behaviorist terms and that “the whole complicated behavior of animals” is based on “nervous activity.”1 Since Pavlov was an evolutionist, he believed his conclusion also applied to the highest animal—human beings. He says, “I trust that I shall not be thought rash if I express a belief that experiments on the higher nervous activities of animals will yield not a few directional indications for education and self-education in man.”2

To this end, Pavlov, Skinner, and other behaviorists believe that similar conditioning can be applied to humans to educate, train, or control them to do only good. Shortly before his death, Pavlov told his lab assistants, “Now we can and must go forward.... [W]e may use all of the experimental material for the investigation of the human being, striving to perfect the human race of the future.”3


Rendered with permission from the book,Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews(Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Ivan P. Pavlov, Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1963), 42.
2 Ibid., 391.
3 Ivan Pavlov, in a statement to his assistants on Feb. 21, 1936, according to W.H. Gantt in the Introduction to Conditional Reflexes and Psychiatry (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1963), 34.

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