Walter Cannon

By: Shawn Brennan

Born October 19, 1871 in Wisconsin – Died October 1, 1945

During his time in high school, Cannon, like most psychologists, became mentored by a teacher. Her name was Mary Jeanette Newson.

Cannon attended Harvard in 1986 and he received a Medical Degree.

Walter began his research at Harvard. In his research he used X-Rays to study the mechanics behind swallowing and the stomach process.

Throughout Cannons Life, he went through different focuses in his studies as he wrote the year of his death.

At Age 26 he started the study of digestion and what is called the bismuth meal. He studied this up until he was 40 years old.

At age 40, he moved on to the way emotional excitement effects the body until he was 46 years of age.

At age 46, he studied wounded shock investigations for about 5 years.

Then he moved onto researching the stable states of organisms until he was 59.

At age 59 he studied chemical meditation of nerve impulses with fellow scientist, Arturo Rosenblueth. He studied this until his late 60's.

When he was 68 years old, he started the study of chemical sensitivity of nerve-isolated organs. This was his last study up to his death.


Cannon Influenced much of the science community.

He is known for numerous "firsts" as a scientist.

Cannon is known for being one of the first to mix salts and metals in order to increase contrast while using X Rays of the digestive track.

Cannon is also known for the term "fight or flight". He created this theory under the belief that animals react to threats with a discharge of the sympathetic nervous system either creating the animal to fight or flee.

If you want to learn more about fight or flight go to:

Walter Cannon created the idea of homeostasis after the research of scientist Claude Bernard. Walter stated that homeostasis has four general features:

  1. Constancy in an open system, such as our bodies represent, requires mechanisms that act to maintain this constancy. Cannon based this proposition on insights into the ways by which steady states such as glucose concentrations, body temperature and acid-base balance were regulated.
  2. Steady-state conditions require that any tendency toward change automatically meets with factors that resist change. An increase in blood sugar results in thirst as the body attempts to dilute the concentration of sugar in the extracellular fluid.
  3. The regulating system that determines the homeostatic state consists of a number of cooperating mechanisms acting simultaneously or successively. Blood sugar is regulated by insulin, glucagons, and other hormones that control its release from the liver or its uptake by the tissues.
  4. Homeostasis does not occur by chance, but is the result of organized self-government.

Cannon also collaborated with psychologist Phillip Bard to develop the Cannon Bard theory. This states why people feel emotions first then act upon them.

Walter Cannon is the author of several books and articles over his life:

  • 1910, A Laboratory Course in Physiology
  • 1911, The Mechanical Factors of Digestion
  • 1915, Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage
  • 1923, Traumatic Shock
  • 1931, Lazaro in the pueblos: the story of Antonio de Espejo's expedition into New Mexico
  • 1932, The Wisdom of the Body
  • 1936, Digestion and Health
  • 1937, Autonomic Neuro-effector Systems, with Arturo Rosenblueth
  • 1942, "Voodoo" Death
  • 1945, The Way of an Investigator

This video explains some theories created by scientists. At 2:11 in the video Walter Cannon is examined:

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