There are two main categories of human behavior: behavior that is conditioned and unconditioned behavior. There are a lot of examples of each category, but for today, it’s best to focus on what I feel is a much less known and under-used category — conditioned responses.
Definition of Conditioned Response
This is a key concept in the theory of classical conditioning, first explored by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In layperson’s terms, a conditioned response is a learned reaction to a stimulus that did not originally cause that reaction. For instance, if every time you hear a doorbell (neutral stimulus), it is followed by a visitor entering your house (significant stimulus), you may eventually feel excited or anxious (conditioned response) just by hearing the doorbell, even without seeing a visitor.
Examples of Conditioned Responses in Everyday Life
Here are some examples of conditioned responses in everyday life:
1. Phobias: The development of a specific phobia, such as the fear of dogs or heights, may be a conditioned response in which the individual associates fear with a particular object or situation due to a previous traumatic experience.
2. Salivation to the sound of a timer: If you always use a timer for cooking, and the sound is consistently followed by delicious food, you might salivate when you hear the timer, even if no food is present.
3. Emotional responses to a song: When a certain song is consistently played during happy or emotional events, hearing the song later might evoke those emotions as a conditioned response.
4. Taste aversion: You may form a conditioned response to a specific food that made you sick in the past. As a result, just the smell or sight of that food could trigger feelings of nausea or disgust.
5. Pavlovian response to a phone’s notification sound: If you regularly receive messages or notifications that cause excitement or anxiety, the notification sound may cause the same emotional response even if no new message or notification is received.
6. Conditioned emotional response to a location: If you feel happy and relaxed when visiting a specific place, such as a beach or a park, you might feel the same way when thinking about or seeing images of those locations.
7. Advertising and consumer behavior: Advertisements often pair positive emotions with a product or brand, such as excitement or happiness. This can create a conditioned response, where consumers associate that emotion with the product, leading to a preference for that brand.
Conditioned Response vs. Unconditioned Response
Conditioned and unconditioned responses are terms used in psychology to explain different learning processes. Please read below to learn about each of these terms and the contexts in which they are used.
|Aspect||Conditioned Response||Unconditioned Response|
|Definition||A conditioned response is a learned reaction to a conditioned stimulus due to prior learning.||An unconditioned response is a natural and automatic reaction to an unconditioned stimulus. It does not require learning.|
|Occurrence||Occurs after training or conditioning.||Occurs naturally and automatically, without any need for conditioning.|
|Example||You feel hungry when you see a fast-food commercial (assuming you’ve previously enjoyed eating fast food).||I am feeling hungry due to the smell of food cooking.|
|Origin||It is developed through the process of classical or operant conditioning.||Innate or inborn, not learned.|
How Does Conditioned Response Work?
A conditioned response is formed through classical conditioning, a type of learning that involves associating a neutral stimulus with a significant stimulus. The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning while studying the digestive system of dogs.
He observed that dogs would start salivating when presented with food (an unconditioned stimulus) and when they heard a previously neutral sound like a bell (which became a conditioned stimulus) that was consistently paired with the food.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how a conditioned response is formed:
1. Before conditioning: A neutral stimulus (NS) does not elicit the target response. For example, the sound of a bell does not make a dog salivate.
2. During conditioning: The neutral stimulus (bell) is consistently and repeatedly paired with an unconditioned stimulus (food) that naturally evokes an unconditioned response (salivation).
3. After conditioning: The neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS) that can now trigger a conditioned response (CR). In this case, the sound of the bell alone can make the dog salivate.
The key to forming a conditioned response is consistently pairing the neutral stimulus with the unconditioned stimulus that elicits the desired response. The strength of the conditioned response will generally increase with the number of times the neutral stimulus is paired with the unconditioned stimulus, making the association between the two stimuli stronger.
Extinction and Spontaneous Recovery in Conditioned Response
Behavioral scientists have used the conditioned response for a long time to understand how organisms learn through experience. While we know that organisms respond to stimuli from their environment, what some may not know is that this response can be learned, forgotten, and relearned again at a later time.
Extinction and spontaneous recovery are two aspects of conditioned response and classical conditioning.
For example, in Pavlov’s classic experiment, if the sound of the bell (conditioned stimulus) were repeatedly played without presenting the food (unconditioned stimulus), the dog would eventually stop salivating (conditioned response) in response to the bell.
This way, the established connection between the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response can fade over time under certain conditions. This process is known as extinction.
Going back to Pavlov’s experiment, if some time passed after the conditioned response had been extinguished (i.e., the dog no longer salivates at the sound of the bell), and then the bell was rung again, the dog might start salivating in response to the bell. This is an example of spontaneous recovery.
Each type of learning demonstrates different aspects of how people learn from their environment. Extinction shows how people can learn new associations between stimuli and responses; spontaneous recovery demonstrates how previously learned associations can be quickly recovered after being forgotten or ignored.
The Most Powerful Psychological Strength
Learning is a reflexive process. We learn through trial and error, repetition, and reinforcement. When we learn to walk, we fall many times before we can stand alone. While each attempt seems fruitless at the time, falling leads us to build a better response to this challenge when we finally stand.
After years of study in the martial arts, we learn several responses to various situations in combat without even thinking about them. This is a result of consistent learning and practice over time.
Conditioned responses are just that: responses we’ve learned to make to certain things in life. Certain things have become associated with certain stimuli, and our brain makes us react automatically. Sounds can be fun to listen to, or they can be irritating. Food can taste great, or it can make you sick. Colors can look gorgeous together, or they can clash horribly.
The point is that we have associations in our brains for almost everything we experience. And because of those associations, we respond automatically to these things based on how they make us feel. A conditioned response has been learned over time. Sometimes, the associations are helpful; sometimes, they’re so ingrained they cause problems.
What Is a Conditioned Response?
A conditioned response is a learned behavior or reaction to a previously neutral stimulus through repeated pairing with an unconditioned stimulus. An unconditioned response involves a natural, automatic reaction to an unconditioned stimulus without needing any prior learning.
How Will a Stimulus Help to Strengthen the Conditioned Response?
The repetition and consistency of pairing a conditioned stimulus with an unconditioned one can greatly strengthen the conditioned response. Each time the conditioned stimulus accurately signals the unconditioned stimulus, the association is strengthened, reinforcing the conditioned response.
When Does a Conditioned Response Stop Occurring?
A conditioned response may stop occurring during a process known as extinction. This happens when the conditioned stimulus is regularly presented without being paired with the unconditioned stimulus. Over time, and with a consistent lack of pairing, the conditioned response gradually weakens and may eventually cease entirely.
Under What Conditions Might a Conditioned Response Become Extinct?
A conditioned response may become extinct if the conditioned stimulus is consistently presented without the unconditioned stimulus. If the expected reward or result doesn’t follow the conditioned stimulation, the conditioned response can weaken and eventually disappear.
In Classical Conditioning, How Are the Neutral Stimulus and the Conditioned Response Related?
In classical conditioning, a neutral stimulus originally has no relevant effect. However, when it is repeatedly paired with an unconditioned stimulus that naturally provokes an unconditioned response, it becomes a conditioned stimulus. As a result, it can now trigger a similar response, known as the conditioned response. Hence, the neutral and conditioned responses connect through repeated pairing with an unconditioned stimulus and response.
Winters, R., & Schneiderman, N. (2001). Autonomic Classical and Operant Conditioning. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 998–1002. https://doi.org/10.1016/b0-08-043076-7/03632-9
Cerutti, D. (2001). Conditioning and Habit Formation, Psychology of. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2501–2511. https://doi.org/10.1016/b0-08-043076-7/01471-6
Wiedemann, K. (2001). Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 560–567. https://doi.org/10.1016/b0-08-043076-7/03760-8
Follette, W. (2001). Operant Conditioning and Clinical Psychology. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 10867–10873. https://doi.org/10.1016/b0-08-043076-7/01339-5