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W. Horsley Gantt

Institutional affiliation: 1929 - 1980

W. Horsley Gantt

Fresh out of medical school, W. Horsley Gantt left the United States in the early 1920s to join a medical relief mission to the fledgling Soviet Union. He wound up spending nearly five years working with Ivan Pavlov, whose name is synonymous with the conditioned reflex and whose work, in Gantt’s estimation, ranked with Darwin’s in its importance.

After Gantt returned from the USSR and joined the Phipps faculty, he expanded on Pavlov’s discoveries. Whereas Pavlov studied the digestive system, Gantt aimed to apply the same principle of the trainability of automatic physiological responses to the cardiovascular system. His discoveries about conditioned changes in heart rate and blood pressure contributed to the development of biofeedback as a therapeutic method in behavioral psychotherapy. In other ways, Gantt worked to apply the principles of behavioral conditioning to the understanding of mental disorder. In developing the idea that some forms of psychological suffering might derive from a split in the conditioned responses of different bodily systems to the same stimulus, Gantt anticipated our modern concept of stress as a linkage between psychological suffering and physical illness.

Dean MacKinnon, M.D