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Pavlov and the Foundation of Behavior Therapy

  • Joseph J. Plaud (a1)


The foundation, achievements, and proliferation of behavior therapy have largely been fueled by the movement's foundation in behavioral principles and theories. Although behavioral accounts of the genesis and treatment of psychopathology differ in the extent to which they emphasize classical or operant conditioning, the mediation of cognitive factors, and the role of biological variables, Pavlov's discovery of conditioning principles was essential to the founding of behavior therapy in the 1950s, and continues to be central to modern behavior therapy. Pavlov's reliance on a physiological model of the nervous system, sensible in the context of an early science of neurology, has had an implication for behavior therapists interested in the study of personality types. However, Pavlov's major legacy to behavior therapy was his discovery of “experimental neuroses,” shown by his students Eroféeva and Shenger-Krestovnikova, to be produced and eliminated through the principles of conditioning and counter-conditioning. This discovery laid the foundation for the first empirically-validated behavior therapy procedure, systematic desensitization, pioneered by Wolpe. The Pavlovian origins of behavior therapy are analyzed in this paper, and the relevance of conditioning principles to modern behavior therapy is demonstrated. It is shown that Pavlovian conditioning represents far more than a systematic basic learning paradigm. It is also an essential theoretical foundation for the theory and practice of behavior therapy.

La fundación, logros y proliferación de la terapia de conducta han sido ampliamente alimentados por la fundamentación del movimiento en los principios y teorías conductuales. Aunque las explicaciones conductuales de la génesis y el tratamiento de la psicopatología difieren en la importancia que le atribuyen al condicionamiento clásico o al operante, a la mediación de factores cognitivos y al papel de las variables biológicas, el descubrimiento de Pavlov de los principios del condicionamiento fue esencial para la fundación de la terapia de conducta en la década de 1950, y sigue estando en el centro de la moderna terapia de conducta. La confianza de Pavlov en un modelo fisiológico del sistema nervioso, comprensible en el contexto de una temprana neurología, ha tenido implicaciones para los terapeutas de conducta interesados en el estudio de los tipos de personalidad. Sin embargo, el principal legado de Pavlov a la terapia de conducta fue su descubrimiento de las “neurosis experimentales” que, como mostraron sus discípulas Eroféeva y Shenger-Krestovnikova, se producían y eliminaban mediante los principios del condicionamiento y el contracondicionamiento. Este descubrimiento puso la base del primer procedimiento de terapia de conducta empíricamente validado, la desensibilización sistemática, desarrollada por Wolpe. En este artículo se analizan los orígenes pavlovianos de la terapia de conducta y se pone de manifiesto la relevancia de los principios del condicionamiento para la moderna terapia de conducta. Se muestra que el condicionamiento pavloviano representa mucho más que un paradigma sistemático de aprendizaje básico. Es también una fundamentación teórica esencial para la teoría y la práctica de la terapia de conducta.


Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this chapter should be addressed to Joseph J. Plaud, Research Office, 44 Hickory Lane, Whitinsville, MA 01588-1356, USA. Electronic mail may be sent via the Internet


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Pavlov and the Foundation of Behavior Therapy

  • Joseph J. Plaud (a1)


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