Conditioned Response: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Defining Conditioned Response
  • 0:40 Classic Example
  • 2:00 Other Examples
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Have you ever heard of a conditioned response? No, it isn't a disease. This lesson will define the term and provide some examples to help you understand how and why a conditioned response occurs.

Defining Conditioned Response

Have you ever run into the street with money when you heard the 'ding' of the ice cream truck, or started swatting the air when you heard a buzzing sound in your ear? You might not know it, but you were having a conditioned response. A conditioned response is a behavior that does not come naturally, but must be learned by the individual by pairing a neutral stimulus with a potent stimulus. The potent stimulus is one that does not require any learning or conditioning to respond to appropriately. Neutral stimuli don't initially have any response associated with them, and the correct response has to be learned through repeated pairings with a potent stimulus.

Make sense yet? It will in a bit. Let's look at some examples.

Classic Example

Ivan Pavlov might come to mind when reading the above description. Surprisingly, he discovered the fundamental concept of conditioned response by accident.

Pavlov was a physiologist studying digestion, which later earned him the Nobel Prize in Medicine. To test the salivation response dogs had to various types of food, he created a device that was able to detect the amount of saliva the dogs were excreting. One day the machines told Pavlov that the dogs had started salivating even though there was no food in front of them. Investigating this strange phenomenon led him to discover that the dogs were unconsciously salivating whenever his assistant walked into the room.

Pavlov reasoned that the dogs had come to associate food with the arrival of the assistant by the pairing of the two events. After some unknown number of repetitions, the dog was conditioned to expect food (the potent event) whenever the previously neutral stimulus (the arrival of an assistant) occurred. Being a brilliant scientist, Pavlov went on to test and confirm his hypothesis using bells, metronomes, and other neutral stimuli.

Pavlov's happy accident aided in the foundation of an important school of thought in psychology called behaviorism, which is still influential more than 100 years after these experiments.

Other Examples

Pavlov and his experiments are all well and good, but most of us don't have a contraption that tracks dog saliva. Can we think of any examples that are noticeable from our everyday lives?

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