Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Unconditioned Stimulus

  • Joy WimberlyEmail author
  • Brad Dufrene
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1033-1



A stimulus that automatically elicits a response without prior learning (Chance 2009).


The unconditioned stimulus (UCS) is a term described in the learning literature to describe a stimulus that automatically elicits a response (Chance 2009). The UCS is innate; no prior learning has to occur in order for the UCS to elicit a response. Unconditioned stimuli have “survival value” or are pertinent for survival (Domjan 2015) and examples can include smell, food, water, pain, temperature, and sexual stimulation. Conversely, the conditioned stimulus (CS) is a stimulus that elicits a response after it is associated with the UCS. Unlike the UCS, the CS requires prior learning in order to elicit a response, which becomes the conditioned response (CR; Krause and Corts 2014).

Standard Paradigm of the Unconditioned Stimulus

Ivan Pavlov, a famous nineteenth century physiologist, first described classical conditioning and the UCS when he began...

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  1. Chance, P. (2009). Learning and behavior: Active learning edition (6th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  2. Domjan, M. P. (2015). The principles of learning and behavior (7th ed.). Stanford: Cengage Learning.Google Scholar
  3. Krause, M. A., & Corts, D. P. (2014). Psychological science: Modeling scientific literacy (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  4. Mazur, J. E. (2016). Learning and Behavior (7th ed.). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Charlie Reeve
    • 1
  1. 1.University of North Carolina-CharlotteCharlotteUSA