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:
- You step on a nail and yelp in pain. Stepping on the nail is an unconditioned stimulus that causes your yelp.
- A baby sees her mother make a funny face and laughs.
Her giggle is caused by her mother’s funny face, which is the unconditioned stimulus.
- Your girlfriend eats something really spicy and her eyes water. The spicy food is an unconditioned stimulus that causes your girlfriend’s eyes to water.
- A woman walks from a dim movie theater into the bright sunlight and squints. She squints because of the bright light, which is the unconditioned stimulus.
Let’s review. In classical conditioning, an unconditioned stimulus is something that elicits a natural and automatic reaction. Pavlov first explained unconditioned stimuli after he experimented on dogs, but there are numerous examples of human conditioning in everyday life.
After you are done, you should be able to:
- Explain the role of an unconditioned stimulus in classical conditioning
- Summarize Pavlov’s experiments in classical conditioning
- List some examples of unconditioned stimuli