Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!





Conditioning is a type of behaviour involving a response to a stimulus that is different from the natural one. It's a type of learned behaviour.

Pavlov’s dogs

Ivan Pavlov (1849 to 1936) was a Russian scientist who investigated conditioning. He discovered that dogs produced extra saliva when they were offered food. This is a natural response to a stimulus - food makes a dog's mouth water. The saliva produced is needed to start digesting food and to make swallowing food easier.

Pavlov noticed that they also did this when the person who fed them came into the room, even if the person had not brought any food. Pavlov went on to ring a bell at the start of feeding time, and eventually the dogs produced extra saliva when they heard the bell, before any food was brought in.

A dog salivating when it hears a bell is not a natural response. They would not do this without being conditioned to do so. The behaviour has been learned. It's called a conditioned response.

Other examples

sheep grazing on field near electric fence

Electric fences stop grazing animals straying

People and animals can be conditioned to avoid certain things. For example, grazing animals get an unpleasant electric shock when they touch an electric fence. They eventually avoid the fence, even when it is turned off.


Behaviour activity

Is it instinct or conditioning that makes you study science?



Join Questionaut's quest to find his friend's hat.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.