What is Conditioned and Unconditioned Response?

What is Conditioned and Unconditioned Response?

unconditioned response

Unconditioned Response | Conditioned Response | Unconditioned Response Vs Conditioned Response

Definition of Unconditioned Response

Unconditioned response is an unlearned response that occurs naturally in reaction to the unconditioned stimulus.

Unconditioned Stimulus:

An unconditioned stimulus is a stimulus that leads to an automatic response.

The Unconditioned Response- Explanation

In classical conditioning, there are stimuli that can produce responses all by themselves and without any prior learning. These types of stimuli are called unconditioned stimuli (US or UCS) and they evoke unconditioned responses (UR or UCR), or responses that are completely natural and occur without an organism going through any prior learning. For example, if you smell a lemon, it might get a sour taste in your mouth and you may salivate. This may occur from the time you are born and can occur without you ever having tasted a lemon before. The salivation and sour taste would be unconditioned responses.

Examples of Unconditioned Responses

Have you ever accidentally touched a hot pan and jerked your hand back in response? That immediate, unlearned reaction is a great example of an unconditioned response. It occurs without any type of learning or training.

Some more examples of unconditioned responses include:

  • Gasping in pain after being stung by a bee
  • Jerking your hand back after touching a hot plate on the oven
  • Jumping at the sound of a loud noise
  • Twitching your leg in response to a doctor tapping on your knee
  • Salivating in response to a sour taste
  • Jumping back from a growling dog

In each of the above examples, the unconditioned response occurs naturally and automatically.

Unconditioned Response- PAVLOV

The concept of the unconditioned response was first discovered by a Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov. During his research on the digestive systems of dogs, the animals in his experiment would begin to salivate whenever they were fed. Pavlov noted that when a buzzer was rung every time the dogs were fed, the animals eventually began to salivate in response to the buzzer alone.

In Pavlov’s classic experiment, the food represents what is known as the unconditioned stimulus (UCS). The UCS naturally and automatically triggers a response. Pavlov’s dogs salivating in response to the food is an example of the unconditioned response.

By repeatedly pairing a conditioned stimulus (the sound of the buzzer) with the unconditioned stimulus (the food), the animals eventually came to associate the sound of the buzzer with the presentation of food. At this point, salivating in response to the sound of the buzzer became the conditioned response.

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Unconditioned Response- UCR

UCR is the unlearned response to a stimulus. In other words, it is any original response that occurs naturally and in the absence of conditioning (e.g., salivation in response to the presentation of food). The unconditioned response is a reflex that serves as the basis for establishment of the conditioned response in classical conditioning. Also called unconditioned reflex.

Conditioned Response

A conditioned response is a behaviour that does not come naturally, but must be learned by the individual by pairing a neutral stimulus with a potent stimulus. The potent stimulus is one that does not require any learning or conditioning to respond to appropriately.

Difference Between Conditioned Response and Unconditioned Response

Conditioned Response

  • The conditioned response will occur only after an association has been made between the UCS and the CS.
  • The conditioned response is a learned response.

Unconditioned Response

  • The unconditioned response is natural and automatic
  • The unconditioned response is innate and requires no prior learning


For example, you naturally tend to tear up whenever you are cutting onions. As you are making dinner, you also enjoy listening to music and find yourself playing the same song quite often. Eventually, you find that when you hear the song you often play during your meal prep, you find yourself tearing up unexpectedly. In this example, the vapors from the onions represent the unconditioned stimulus. They automatically and naturally trigger the crying response, which is the unconditioned response.

After multiple associations between a certain song and the unconditioned stimulus, the song itself eventually starts to evoke tears.

So what happens when an unconditioned stimulus is no longer paired with a conditioned stimulus? When the conditioned stimulus is presented alone without the unconditioned stimulus, the conditioned response will eventually diminish or disappear, a phenomenon known as extinction.

In Pavlov’s experiment, for example, ringing the buzzer without presenting food eventually led the dogs to stop salivating in response to the buzzer. Pavlov found, however, that extinction does not lead to the subject returning to their previously unconditioned state. In some cases, allowing a period of time to elapse before suddenly reintroducing the conditioned stimulus can lead to spontaneous recovery of the response.

How Unconditioned Response Occurs

Unconditioned response is an unlearned response that occurs naturally in reaction to the unconditioned stimulus.

For example, if the smell of food is the unconditioned stimulus, the feeling of hunger in response to the smell of food is the unconditioned response.

Unconditioned Response FAQs

  1. What is an example of Unconditioned Response?

Jerking your hand back after touching a hot plate on the oven, is the example of unconditioned response.

  1. What is an example of Unconditioned Stimulus?

Cutting up an onion makes your eyes water. The onion is the unconditioned stimulus.

  1. What is Conditioned V/S Unconditioned response?

A conditioned response is one that is learned after pairing the once neutral stimulus with the unconditioned stimulus to elicit the conditioned response. The unconditioned response is unlearned and reflexive.

  1. What is an example of Conditioned Response?

When a child goes in for a routine immunization, they may not know exactly what to expect. After they feel the slight pain of the shot, they may start to cry and get upset at just the sight of the needle on subsequent visits. This type of classical conditioning can even happen vicariously. If there is a lineup of children, the kids further back in the line can start to get upset when they see other children crying after receiving their immunizations.

  1. Is fear Conditioned Response?

Yes, fear is Conditioned Response.

  1. What is the Synonym of Unconditioned Response?

Unconditioned Reflex.