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Respondent Conditioning Examples & Properties

Respondent conditioning is the acquisition of knowledge in responding to environmental signals.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 15, 2023
min read

What is Respondent Conditioning?

Sometimes referred to as classical conditioning, respondent conditioning is the acquisition of knowledge in responding to environmental signals.

It's a type of learning that happens when stimuli naturally produce a response, also called an unconditional stimulus. It's connected with a stimulus that isn't capable of producing a response, or a neutral stimulus.

Over multiple pairings, neutral stimuli become conditioned, producing responses that previously came forth by the unconditional stimulus.

Pavlov’s Famous Dog

In this exercise, the process of respondent conditioning is exemplified.

Pavlov was examining all of his dog's processes of digestion. While doing so, he came upon another discovery. Each of the dog's mouths would water whenever food was scented.

Ringing a bell before the dogs got their feed, they began associating the sound with the food he brought them.

From this, Pavlov concluded that his dogs could behave a certain way from the sound alone, such as them salivating.

For the dogs, the audible bells create a link to Pavlov's food. Even while they sometimes would salivate when no food at all was present, they didn't do so when the bell was rung before conditioning. 

Over several pairings by using the unconditional stimulus, the neutral stimulus transits to conditioned, eliciting the action of mouth-watering on its own.

Phases of Respondent Conditioning

Three conditioning phases exist in the action of respondent conditioning, Pre-conditioning, conditioning, and post-conditioning.


Conditioning is defined as taking in knowledge. Therefore, pre-conditioning is before learning takes place. Still, neutral stimuli remain present naturally. Dogs, for instance, naturally drool when they see or scent dog food, since it's instinctive.


Learning happens when neutral stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are combined. After the bell is rung and food is shown with it, dogs will learn to match the ringing with the food when conditioning.


At this phase, a link between neutral and unconditioned stimulus begins to emerge. Now a conditional response, the dogs start to drool when the bell sounds.

Respondent Conditioning vs. Operant Conditioning

Respondent and operant conditioning are two types of conditioning that exist in psychology. The primary difference between the two is predicated on learned behavior being voluntary or not. Respondent conditioning ends with learning involuntary behavior, with operant conditioning ending with voluntary behavior.


1. Making bread when selling houses

Some realtors are known to bake bread while attempting to sell a house. People often associate the scent of freshly baked bread with fond memories of their childhood. Resulting from this is a smell that creates nostalgia and relaxation, feelings that may lead to a greater number of potential buyers.

2. Getting a vaccine

For some parents, bringing a child to a clinic takes lots of effort. It's no secret that small children dislike getting shots, associating it with lots of discomfort and pain. This can bring about feelings of anxiety and fear in them. As a result, when they hear words such as shots, needles, injections, or vaccines, fear can rapidly develop in them.


Second order conditioning

This manifests when an unconditioned stimulus is linked with another conditioned stimulus, which is already connected with a conditioned stimulus of a second class. It's done to create an identical response to the original stimulus.

Stimulus generalization

This is the action of a conditioned response obtained by an identical stimulus but the same as the primary conditioned stimulus. The resemblance between them helps learning become generalized from one to the next.

Fear conditioning

Also known as aversive conditioning, this is learning that happens when someone associates a conditioning stimulus with a bad conclusion. Getting vaccines is one instance of how one conditioning process can conclude in fear conditioning.

There was a time when survival was based on things like associative learning, which helped people to shy away from hazardous circumstances. But if the negative response to this is out of sync with the danger, it might end in psychological disorders.


This conditioning is when a past stimulus that was conditioned doesn't produce the conditioned reaction. The behavior learned is extinct, though not entirely depleted. It creates alternative knowledge that keeps the conditioned response within the circumstance that is conditioned.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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