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What Is a Conditioned Stimulus?

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Conditioned Stimulus

In Pavlov's famous experiment with dogs, the sound of the bell became the conditioned stimulus.

Image: Petr Vins

Definition:

In classical conditioning, the conditioned stimulus is a previously neutral stimulus that, after becoming associated with the unconditioned stimulus, eventually comes to trigger a conditioned response.

For example, suppose that the smell of food is an unconditioned stimulus and a feeling of hunger is the unconditioned response. Now, imagine that when you smelled your favorite food, you also heard the sound of a whistle. While the whistle is unrelated to the smell of the food, if the sound of the whistle was paired multiple times with the smell, the sound alone would eventually trigger the conditioned response. In this case, the sound of the whistle is the conditioned stimulus.

The example above is very similar to the original experiment performed by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. The dogs in his experiment would salivate in response to food, but after repeatedly pairing the presentation of food with the sound of a bell, the dogs would begin to salivate to the sound alone. In this example, the sound of the bell was the conditioned stimulus.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

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