How Ivan Pavlov Handled a Piece of Steak

Most psychology students recognize the name of Ivan Pavlov, one of the great minds of psychology, who developed the theory of classical conditioning (dogs salivating when he rang a bell). From the Yale Alumni magazine comes this wonderful tidbit of a story:

“In mid-August 1929, the Harvard Medical School hosted the Thirteenth International Physiological Congress, one of the largest gatherings of scientists ever convened in the United States. Pavlov, the doyen of experimental physiology at almost 80 and honored by a Nobel Prize a quarter-century earlier, was the lion of the gathering. His pioneering work on conditioned reflexes had been crucial to understanding brain function, and he was keen to see the Harvard neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing ’91 operate. The preeminent brain surgeon and father of modern neurosurgery as a field, Cushing, two decades younger than Pavlov, was at the top of his game. Performing for Pavlov in a theater at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Cushing removed a large tumor of the left hemisphere from a cancer patient’s brain. The patient later recalled that Cushing introduced him to Pavlov, saying, “You are now shaking hands with the world’s greatest living physiologist.”

Pavlov was captivated by the new electrosurgical knife Cushing used in the operation, and at the end of the procedure, Cushing got a piece of beef so that the elder scientist could try his hand. After making a few incisions, Pavlov inscribed his name into the meat. “I asked him whether he wanted me to eat the meat in the hope of improving my conditional reflexes,” Cushing wrote in his journal, “or whether we could keep it in the museum, the latter we will proceed to do—’Pavlov’s beef-steak.'” A collector of old medical books and of brain tumors, when he died in 1939 Cushing bequeathed both to Yale, where his rare books would become the cornerstone for creating the Medical Historical Library.”

Anyway, I love this story, especially the concept of him eating the steak, to “improve his conditional reflexes!”

Next time I throw a barbecue party I’ll serve the Pavlov-Steak sandwich…

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

A Better Voicemail Message! (warning, humor!)

Are you tired of all those multiple choice voicemail menus? Press infinity if you’d like more options. I saw this on the web, and had a giggle. Maybe I’ll change my voicemail message to it. (Kidding!)

Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.

  • If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
  • If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2 for you.
  • If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
  • If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
  • If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.If you are depressed, it doesn’t matter which number you press. No one will answer.
  • If you are delusional and occasionally hallucinate, please be aware that the thing you are holding on the side of your head is alive and about to bite off your ear.
  • If you have an anger management problem, please throw the phone against the wall to select an option.

Anyway, I thought it was funny, and hope I haven’t offended anyone by posting it.

In all seriousness, the real messages that many psychiatrists have are almost as funny. You know, the one that says, “If you have a ‘true’ emergency, please go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.” I’ve always thought this is a stupid message, that is insensitive and uncaring. Like patients don’t know about 911 or the emergency room. I believe a better message is to offer a pager number or cell phone number where a patient can reach me, their psychologist, rather than an impersonal 911 operator. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I can usually help the client through crisis quickly and effectively.

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions