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Using Science To Help Train Employees & Modify Undesirable Behavior!

03 Apr 2018 10:43 AM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

The Respondent Conditioning Process

The graphic below  shows how a neutral stimulus, through conditioning, becomes a conditioned stimulus that elicits a conditioned response. In this situation we are going to look at a neutral stimulus which is a bell. Through the pairing of the bell with chocolate, which is an unconditioned stimulus the bell can then become conditioned to elicit salivation.


NS = Neutral Stimulus – Does not elicit a response, is neutral.

UCS = Unconditioned Stimulus – is naturally relevant and elicits a response

UCR = Unconditioned Response – happens automatically

CS = Conditioned Stimulus – through the conditioning process has now developed an eliciting value

CR = Conditioned Response – the response to a conditioned stimulus

Now here is the important part. Respondent conditioning takes place when an unconditioned stimulus that elicits an unconditioned response is repeatedly paired with a neutral stimulus. As a result of conditioning, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that reliably elicits a conditioned response. Each single pairing is considered a trial. In respondent conditioning, the presentation of the two stimuli (neutral and unconditioned) occurs regardless of the behavior the individual is exhibiting. The behavior elicited is a reflex response (Chance, 2008, p.64).

Another aspect of respondent conditioning is called high order conditioning. High order conditioning takes place when a well-established conditioned stimulus is paired with a neutral stimulus to elicit a conditioned response. It takes place in the absence of an unconditioned stimulus, and many more stimuli can come to elicit conditional responses, not just those paired with an unconditioned stimulus. This enhances our adaptation and survival ability. But high order conditioning also affects and influences many emotional reactions, such as fear. We should thus be aware of it in the workplace. (Chance, 2008).

The wonderful thing about respondent conditioning is that when we grasp the scientific principles behind it, we can then use it in the workplace and our training lessons to modify a trainee’s behavior. The graphic below shows how conditioning can be used to create a pleasant or enjoyable response to a stimulus. This conditioning process is called counter-conditioning.

Let’s now look at an example of operant conditioning and respondent conditioning in the work place and how they can work together. Figure 4 shows them side by side in terms of timeline and how the stimulus affect behavior.

An Example of Operant Conditioning

Let’s say a competent and highly-trained dog walking employee performs to an excellent standard and clients provide gratuities accordingly. Each time a specific client service is reinforced with a gratuity, the employee’s likelihood of repeating that same standard of client service will be strengthened. In other words, the behavior has been strengthened by its consequences. The behavior has been positively reinforced.

An Example of Respondent Conditioning

Now let’s look at how respondent condition can affect the workplace. Let’s say that a supervisor’s appearance in your business has been paired continually with overly critical feedback to one of your employees. This will more than likely condition a problematic emotional response because, whenever the supervisor appears, it elicits a feeling of anxiety – or similar – in your staff.  The supervisor and the staff may both be extremely proficient in their skill delivery but their attitudes are going to negatively impact your business. The supervisor is having a problematic effect on the employees’ attitude which will be reflected in their customer service.

Learn more about training and developing employees through the application of learning theory  in my book Training Big for Small Businesses 

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