Unconditioned Stimulus: Examples & Definition

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  • 0:00 What Is an…
  • 0:33 Pavlov & Classical…
  • 0:55 Examples of…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

An unconditioned stimulus produces an automatic, natural reaction. Read on to find out more about unconditioned stimuli and classical conditioning. Then, test your knowledge with a quiz.

What is an Unconditioned Stimulus?

Billy never had any strong feelings towards rulers until he went to live with his grandmother. Whenever he was bad, she would beat him with a ruler. Being beaten made him very upset. Now, as an adult, he feels upset whenever he sees a ruler.

In this example of classical conditioning, Billy gets upset when he is beaten. His reaction to being beaten is natural and automatic. No one has to tell him to feel that way - it is an unconditioned response. The beating, which is the reason he has the unconditioned response, is an unconditioned stimulus, which is simply something that elicits a natural, automatic reaction.

Pavlov and Classical Conditioning

Psychologist Ivan Pavlov first proposed classical conditioning. He ran an experiment in which he rang a bell every time he fed the dogs. After a while, the dogs began to drool whenever they heard the bell, even if there was no food in sight. Pavlov explained that the dogs had learned to associate the bell with the food.

Examples of Unconditioned Stimuli

Unconditioned stimuli can be many different things, both positive and negative. If you see a gorgeous sunset and sigh in contentment, the sunset is an unconditioned stimulus that's causing your sigh, which is an unconditioned response. Consider the following examples:

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