Stimulus (psychology)

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In psychology, a stimulus is an energy change (such as light or sound) which is registered by the senses. In behaviorism and related stimulus–response theories, a stimulus constitutes the basis for behavior, whereas it constitutes the basis for perception in perceptual psychology.[1]

In the second half of the 19th century, the conception had been established by psychophysics, the "scientific study of the relation between stimulus and sensation",[2] together with the notion of the reflex arc constituting a foundational concept of scientific psychology.[3] While at this time "whatever could be controlled by an experimenter and applied to an observer could be thought of as a stimulus."[3] In the context of perception, a distinction is made between the distal stimulus (the external, perceived object) and the proximal stimulus (the stimulation of sensory organs).[4]

Functions of stimuli[edit]

Eliciting stimulus[edit]

According to University of Iowa, eliciting stimulus is an important part of Pavlov's conditioning theory. It is defined as a change which is related to an anticipated future response. An example is stated to be having a piece of chocolate in our mouth (unconditioned stimulus) and have a later response of salivation (unconditioned response).[5] Eliciting stimulus is the alteration in the environment which is associated with the state of the environment.[6] The association with the environment comes from something which is directly affecting the organism. [6] The correlation with the stimulus and the response exists by having a response following or existing before the stimulus. [6] Change is also one factor of eliciting stimulus.[6] Stimulus has a consistency in predicting generic behavior that has properties called continuous agents such as: location, intensity, quality and duration. [6] Change in one of these properties can either withdraw or stimulate the behavior.[6]

Discriminative stimulus[edit]

According to University of Iowa, discriminative stimulus affects the operating response because of anticipated or scheduled reinforcements which are or will be associated with the response.[5] Discriminative stimulus is different from eliciting stimulus.[6] Discriminative stimulus sets the ground for a response to occur.[6] Even if the response does not occur, it does not depend on the discriminative stimulus.[6] Once discriminative stimulus is present, it will lead other factors to response.[6] Discriminative stimulus applies to operant behavior.[6]

Pseudo reflex[edit]

Pseudo reflex is the correlation between a stimulus and a response which appears to have a relationship.[6] It is related to each other tenuously and involves relationship with other stimulus and response.[6]

Reinforcing stimulus[edit]

When an occurrence of a behavior that is followed is increasingly supplemented, a reinforcing stimulus occurs.[5] This stimulus gets into action at the same time as the eliciting or discriminative stimulus.[6] Its contributions in leading to a response is separate from eliciting and discriminative stimulus.[6] Negatively reinforcing stimulus leads to a pseudo reflex.[6] Termination of a negative reinforcement leads to a positive reinforcement.[6] In a negative reinforcement, there will a superficial correlation with the stimulus and the response which makes it difficult to trace original properties.[6]

Emotional stimulus[edit]

Emotional stimulus is not eliciting.[6] Its primary effect is to make a behavior stronger.[6] Emotional stimulus is considered as the proportionality and the strength of an operation.[6] Emotional stimulus is relevant to drive through specific responses in emotions.[6] Drive and emotions are separate concepts which work together to explain emotional stimulus.[6] They work together by recognizing the change in strength (emotion) and its functional relationship to an operation (drive).[6] Changes in emotions affect the emotional stimulus and makes it very dynamic.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Stimulus". In: Richard L. Gregory (Ed.), The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Oxford, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Gescheider, G. (1997). Psychophysics: the fundamentals (3rd ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. ix. ISBN 0-8058-2281-X. 
  3. ^ a b Gibson, James J. (1960): "The Concept of the Stimulus in Psychology". American Psychologist, 15, pp. 694–703, here p.694.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c "Stimuli". 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Skinner, B. F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. New York.