10 Conditioned Response Examples

➡️ Study Card
conditioned response examples and definition, explained below
➡️ Introduction

➡️ Definition

Conditioned Response Definition

A conditioned response is not a natural reaction to something. It is a reaction that we have learned through repetition, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, or punishments.

The concept comes from the behaviorism school of thought in psychology. It was developed as part of Ivan Pavlov’s, B.F Skinner’s, Edward Thorndike’s, and John Watson’s theories of classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

It is regularly used in animal training as well as in human classrooms. In animal training, we teach a dog to roll over when it hears the phrase “roll!”. Naturally, a dog wouldn’t respond this way. However, it has been conditioned to have this response thanks to positive reinforcements, such as treats whenever the dog does the trick.

Conditioned responses in education are related to rote learning. An example is when a school teacher says “four times four” and students respond “sixteen!” Here, students aren’t actually doing the sums every time. Instead, they have learned (or been conditioned) to give this response whenever they hear the phrase “four times four”. It’s a conditioned, rote-learned response.

Conditioned Response Examples

1. Running for Food when a Bell Rings (For Cats and Dogs)

pavlov and his dog

Stimulus: Bell
Response: Salivation

One of the easiest things to teach an animal is that a bell means food. To do this, simply ring a bell every time you give your pet some food. Through repetition, the animal will come to associate the bell with food.

After a while, you can ring the bell and the animal will come running for its feed.

In this situation, the food is the unconditioned stimulus (something animals naturally like). The bell is the conditioned stimulus (a stimulus that comes to be supplemented for the natural one – food). Lastly, the animal running for the bell is the conditioned response. It’s the response that the animal has learned.

2. Recess Bell (Running for the Door)

recess bell

Stimulus: Bell
Response: Running for the Door

At school, we all learn that a ringing bell means it’s the end of the session. Often, it means we are allowed to go and get something to eat.

Here, the same bell-food stimulus and response association is made, but for humans! The bell is a neutral stimulus. It doesn’t naturally mean “food”. But we’ve come to learn that it’s a sign that it is time to eat. The conditioned response is for the students to pack away their books and stationery, excitedly racing for the door to escape from the classroom.

3. Learning your Times Tables (Reciting the Answer)

strict math teacher

Stimulus: 4×4
Response: 16

Rote learning involves getting students to learn the correct answer to a question by heart, allowing them to provide the answer during rapid-fire questioning by the teacher.

This learning style required students to deliver a conditioned response to a set question. For example, the teacher would say “four times four” and the student would quickly respond with “sixteen”.

While in this example, there is no ‘natural stimulus’ that is being replaced by a conditioned stimulus, it still has the hallmarks of the conditioned response mechanism. It requires repetition, rewards, and positive punishment for a learned response to be generated.

4. Sit-Com Theme Music


Stimulus: Music
Response: Turn up the volume

Sit-coms play the same theme song at the beginning of each episode. An example from when I was growing up is the television show Friends. When the music came on in the background, I instantly knew it was signifying. The same goes with news broadcasts: at 6pm every night, the regal intro music plays before the newscaster starts reading from the teleprompter.

In each of these situations, the music has no inherent meaning. However, we have come to be conditioned into knowing that each song means a certain show is about to come onto television.

5. Saying You’re Welcome (When Someone Says Thank You)

person saying thank you

Stimulus: “Thank you”
Response: “You’re Welcome”

Commonly, people will respond to “thank you” with “you’re welcome”, a sneeze with “bless you”, and someone tripping over with “are you okay?”

Here, we are providing a conditioned response to a common stimulus. We have learned this response through exposure to the repeated use of these phrases in association with one another in common discourse.

chrisExtension Point: An extension to this example is the phenomenon of response generalization. When we respond differently to “how are you?” with responses that mean the same thing, like “good,” “fine,” or “well,” we are engaging in response generalization.

6. Potty Training


Stimulus: Need to Pee
Response: Going to the Bathroom

Potty training requires a child to develop a conditioned response to a natural urge.

Parents often use rewards like treats and stickers to facilitate this process. When a child tells their parent that they need to pee, and then they go to the bathroom, then they are rewarded with a sticker.

Over time, the child develops a conditioned response: the urge to pee leads to an automatic response to head off to the bathroom. Even after removing the reward (a sticker every time), the behavior remains.

7. Responding to your Own Name

call out

Stimulus: Someone calls your name
Response: You turn to face them

When someone calls out “Chris!”, a natural unsocialized version of myself wouldn’t respond. It’s just a sound, after all. But society agreed that my name is Chris, and I learned that when someone says my name, they’re probably seeking my attention.

Here, responding to my name is a deeply ingrained but nonetheless conditioned response. The sound “Chris!”, a neutral stimulus, has become a conditioned stimulus, due to the cultural meaning assigned to it. My reaction to my name, in turn, is the conditioned response.

8. Reaching for our Phones

cell phone

Stimulus: Phone Noise
Response: You Reach for your Phone

In the 21st Century, most people have smart phones that ding and vibrate whenever you get a message or notification. You may find that this noise makes you reach for your phone almost instinctively.

If this is you, then you’ve developed a conditioned response to a neutral stimulus. This stimulus – the ding or vibrate – doesn’t have any inherent meaning. However, your phone company has made you associate the noise with the social gratification of receiving a message from friends or family.

You may also find that someone else’s phone that makes a ding or similar noise makes you instinctively reach for your phone. In these situations, you have developed stimulus generalization.

9. Wearing Sunscreen

person applying sunscreen

Stimulus: Sunburn
Response: Learning to wear sunscreen

If you have been out in the sun one too many times, you may have developed a conditioned response to the sun. This conditioned response is, likely, to put sunscreen on before going outdoors.

The stimulus in this situation is sunburn.

Often, people forget to put sunscreen on at the beginning of the summer and they might get an early summer burn. This is because there hasn’t been enough repetition of this action over the winter for you to develop the association between the stimulus (the sun) and the conditioned response (the sun cream).

10. Dog Learning to Roll on Command

dog rolling over

Stimulus: “Roll” command
Response: Dog rolls

We don’t just stop at ringing bells as a way to communicate with dogs. We also use commands like “roll”, “sit”, and “come” to train our dogs. In each situation, the dog doesn’t literally know what “roll” means. It’s simply a noise for the dog.

However, through repetition, the dog develops the skill of stimulus discrimination. It learns that “roll” sounds different to “sit”, and that “roll” requires a different conditioned response to “sit”.

In this situation, the phrase is a neutral stimulus, but when paired with desired actions and rewards such as treats, we can turn it into a conditioned stimulus that has meaning to the dog, and that can elicit a conditioned response.

Read Next: Higher-Order Conditioning


Conditioned responses are all around us, though we may not always be aware of them. In some cases, our response is involuntary and unconscious (such as jumping at the sound of thunder), making it an unconditioned response. In other cases, such as when we reach for our phones, the response is something we’ve learned to do consciously, making it a conditioned response.

Sometimes the conditioned responses we develop are helpful, such as when we put suncream on before going outside. In other cases, they may be less than helpful, such as when we reach for our phones every time we hear a ding or vibration.

In education, the stimulus-response mechanism can be useful for teaching students (and particularly for classroom discipline). However, critics say it doesn’t teach students how to come up with answers but only to memorize the correct answer to a question.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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