A conditioned response is a type of learned behavior, and is often considered one of the simplest. It is a response that is obtained through a stimulus other than the one that originated it. Such a response also is often called a conditioned reflex.
Conditioned response can be developed through a procedure called acquisition which involves pairing a neutral stimulus with the conditioned one. One common example is when the loud ringing a bell produces scares animals. Pairing another more neutral stimulus with the bell, such as a particular dog toy, typically causes the animal to associate the loud sound with the toy. The animal eventually will be scared upon the appearance of the toy itself without the bell having to ring.
Classical conditioning, of which a conditioned response is a large part, was developed by Ivan Pavlov in the early 1900s. Pavlov's experiment involved dogs in which he noticed that the dogs developed a habit of salivating in response to the lab technician that fed them their meat powder rather than to the food itself. To test his theory, Pavlov used a metronome to signal it was time to eat, and after a few times, the dogs began to salivate upon hearing the click of the device.
It is helpful to know the other elements in classical conditioning to fully understand a conditioned response. An unconditioned stimulus is one that naturally triggers a response in either humans or animals, such as the smell of food. The unconditioned response of hunger is natural. By contrast, a conditioned stimulus was at one time neutral, but when it is paired with the unconditioned stimulus, it becomes associated and will obtain the same response, which is the conditioned response.
Conditioned response theory has been helpful in studying the sensory abilities of various animals. For example, Karl von Frisch was able to determine that honeybees can see several colors by conditioning them to look for food on blue cardboard. Once they showed the proper response, he did the same with cardboard in other colors and discovered that bees can tell the difference between blue and green, blue and violet, and yellow and green.
Though this type of response is often associated with animals, it can also figure into the daily lives of people. Children first learn to associate the word, "No!" with an angry face, and eventually learn to stop their behavior. Most conditioned responses, especially those learned at an early age, become permanently ingrained.