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Stimulus Response Essay Structure


Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) pioneered classical conditioning, the first form of stimulus-response theory. Pavlov was a Soviet researcher studying the digestive process through prolonged experiments with dogs. While doing this, Pavlov noticed that his dogs began salivating before they were brought food. Pavlov then conducted additional experiments to measure the amount of saliva produced by the dogs when they were prompted with various stimuli. He discovered that over time he could get the dogs to associate certain stimuli with certain responses. In his most famous experiment, Pavlov rang a bell before giving his dogs food. The dogs eventually salivated at the sound of the bell, regardless of whether or not Pavlov gave them food. The dogs had been conditioned to pair the stimulus of the bell with the response of salivation.

Several important terms have been derived from Pavlov's work. In this particular experiment, the food was an unconditioned (untaught or natural) stimulus and Pavlov's dogs' salivation was an unconditioned response. By pairing the unconditioned stimulus with a neutral stimulus (ringing the bell), the dogs came to associate the two. Thus, the neutral stimulus became a conditioned (taught) stimulus, and the dogs' salivation in response to it became a conditioned response. The conditioned response is usually the goal of this kind of experiment, which therapists often conduct with humans.

It is important to note that in classical conditioning, the unconditioned and conditioned responses targeted are always involuntary. This means that responses such as nausea, blinking, salivating, and increased heart rate are all acceptable. However, any voluntary response, such as putting on a seat belt, pacing a room, or flipping a switch falls under the category of operant conditioning.

Inspired by Pavlov's work, John B. Watson (1878-1958) was the first psychologist to intentionally apply classical conditioning to a person. Watson used a young child, referred to in his published work as "Little Albert," to prove that humans could be conditioned in the same way as Pavlov's dogs. Little Albert had no fear of small animals but cried whenever a steel bar was hit with a hammer, producing a loud noise. Little Albert was then allowed to play with a lab rat, which he seemed to enjoy. After some time, whenever Little Albert was presented with the lab rat, Watson hit the steel bar with the hammer. Eventually, Little Albert cried whenever he saw the lab rat. He even came to fear anything white or fuzzy that looked like the lab rat. While completely unethical by today's standards, this experiment was a milestone in behavioral therapy because it proved that fear is often a learned response and not something inherent in the individual.

Psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) first practiced operant conditioning and is best known for his creation of the "Skinner Box." He used the Skinner Box to teach lab rats various tasks. The box had an electric floor, a lever that dispensed a food pellet when pressed, and various lights and speakers. Using the box, Skinner was able to encourage different behaviors in the rats such as pulling the lever in response to stimuli.

Skinner divided his methods of behavioral modification into several categories. First, he used the concepts of reinforcement and punishment. In this context, reinforcement is anything that encourages a desired behavior, and punishment is anything that discourages a desired behavior. Second, he added the qualifiers "positive" and "negative," where positive indicates the addition of a stimulus, and negative indicates the removal of one. For example, suppose the desired behavior is to get the rat to pull the lever. Giving the rat a food pellet (a stimulus) when the lever is pulled is positive reinforcement. In this example, the food pellet is the stimulus and the action, pulling the lever, is reinforcement. If Skinner decided to shock the rat whenever it did not pull the lever, it would be negative reinforcement. The action is still reinforcement because pulling the lever is being encouraged, but it is negative because a stimulus (the shock) is being taken away when the rat performs the desired behavior.

This same process applies to punishment. With punishment, though, a stimulus is added to discourage a behavior. Suppose a parent spanks a child for misbehaving. Spanking is the stimulus. Because a stimulus is added, it is called positive punishment; whereas taking away a child's toys because he or she misbehaved is negative punishment.

Operant conditioning is often used to treat people with addictions. The families of individuals being treated for addiction are encouraged to reward them for making healthier choices and increasing the number of days abstinent. The reward must be substantial, however, to motivate the person to make this choice. The families must withdraw these rewards if the addicted individual makes unhealthy choices.

Psychologists use a similar technique to treat individuals with phobias. People with phobias have an irrational fear of an object. Because of this, they try to avoid the object whenever possible. With Systematic Desensitization (SD), psychologists seek to help patients overcome their phobia by gradually exposing them to the object, a type of positive reinforcement.

Tyler J. Biscontini

Boeree, C. George, Dr. "B. F. Skinner." Ship.edu. Shippensburg University. Web. 21 Jul. 2014. http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/beh.html

Goldman, G. Jason. "What is Classical Conditioning? (And Why Does it Matter?)." Scientific American. Nature America, Inc. 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 21 Jul. 2014. <http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/2012/01/11/what-is-classical-conditioning-and-why-does-it-matter/>

Goldman, G. Jason. "What is Operant Conditioning? (And How Does it Explain Driving Dogs?)." Scientific American. Nature America, Inc. 13 Dec. 2012. Web. 21 Jul. 2014. <http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/2012/12/13/what-is-operant-conditioning-and-how-does-it-explain-driving-dogs/>

Holland, Peter C. "Cognitive Versus Stimulus-Response Theories of Learning." PMC. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. 29 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Jul. 2014.


LEO: Literacy Education Online

Writing a Reaction or Response Essay

Reaction or response papers are usually requested by teachers so that you'll consider carefully what you think or feel about something you've read. The following guidelines are intended to be used for reacting to a reading although they could easily be used for reactions to films too. Read whatever you've been asked to respond to, and while reading, think about the following questions.

  • How do you feel about what you are reading?
  • What do you agree or disagree with?
  • Can you identify with the situation?
  • What would be the best way to evaluate the story?

Keeping your responses to these questions in mind, follow the following prewriting steps.

Prewriting for Your Reaction Paper

The following statements could be used in a reaction/response paper. Complete as many statements as possible, from the list below, about what you just read.

My Reaction to What I Just Read Is That . . .

I think that

I see that

I feel that

It seems that

In my opinion,


A good quote is

In addition,

For example,





In conclusion,

What you've done in completing these statements is written a very rough reaction/response paper. Now it needs to be organized. Move ahead to the next section.

Organizing Your Reaction Paper

A reaction/response paper has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
  • The introduction should contain all the basic information in one or two paragraphs.

    Sentence 1:This sentence should give the title, author, and publication you read.

    Sentence 2, 3, and sometimes 4:

    These sentences give a brief summary of what you read (nutshell)
    Sentence 5:This sentence is your thesis statement. You agree, disagree, identify, or evaluate.

  • Your introduction should include a concise, one sentence, focused thesis. This is the focused statement of your reaction/response. More information on thesis statements is available.
  • The body should contain paragraphs that provide support for your thesis. Each paragraph should contain one idea. Topic sentences should support the thesis, and the final sentence of each paragraph should lead into the next paragraph.

    Topic Sentence
    detail -- example --quotation --detail -- example -- quotation -- detail -- example -- quotation -- detail -- example --quotation
    Summary Sentence

    You can structure your paragraphs in two ways:


    in contrast to

  • The conclusion can be a restatement of what you said in your paper. It also be a comment which focuses your overall reaction. Finally, it can be a prediction of the effects of what you're reacting to. Note: your conclusion should include no new information.

    More information on strategies for writing conclusions is available.


In summary, this handout has covered prewriting and organizing strategies for reaction/response papers.
  • Prewriting
    • Read the article and jot down ideas.
    • How do you feel about what was said?
    • Do you agree or disagree with the author?
    • Have you had any applicable experience?
    • Have you read or heard anything that applies to this what the writer said in the article or book?
    • Does the evidence in the article support the statements the writer made?
  • Organizing
    • Write the thesis statement first.
    • Decide on the key points that will focus your ideas. These will be your topic sentences.
    • Develop your ideas by adding examples, quotations, and details to your paragraphs.
    • Make sure the last sentence of each paragraph leads into the next paragraph.
    • Check your thesis and make sure the topic sentence of each paragraph supports it.

Return to the Write Place Catalogue

For questions and suggestions, please e-mail us at leolink@stcloudstate.edu.

© 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 The Write Place

This handout was written by Kathleen Cahill and revised for LEO by Judith Kilborn, the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.

URL: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/acadwrite/reaction.html

Updated: 6 April 1999

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