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Psyche, Nerves, and Hormones in the Physiology of Ingestion

Psyche, Nerves, and Hormones in the Physiology of Ingestion

(p.194) Ten Psyche, Nerves, and Hormones in the Physiology of Ingestion
Appetite and Its Discontents
Elizabeth A. Williams
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 10 focuses on competing views of appetite offered by “nervists” and “hormonalists” in the years 1900-1950 and on efforts to reconcile the two. Around 1900 the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov seemingly revolutionized thinking about appetite when he showed that gastric secretion could be triggered by purely psychic excitation. Yet investigators focused on reflex action challenged Pavlov’s view of psychic influence while others attributed essential secretory processes to the work of newly discovered “hormones.” A decades-long controversy over the relative importance of nervous versus hormonal action in ingestion and digestion ensued. Researchers including the American John R. Brobeck took a key step in studying the role of the hypothalamus in regulating quantifiable ingestive behavior. In contrast Walter B. Cannon stressed the joint action of nerves and hormones in the work of the sympathico-adrenal system. Cannon’s championing of automatic regulatory devices and the “wisdom of the body” encouraged a new psychosomatic understanding of appetite based on recognition of the work of complex, interrelated processes.

Keywords:   nervists, hormonalists, Ivan Pavlov, reflex action, John R. Brobeck, hypothalamus, Walter B. Cannon, regulatory devices, wisdom of the body

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