Conditioned Emotional Response

Conditioned emotional response can be referred as learned emotional reaction or response to certain conditioned stimulus. The term “Condition-ed” has been made popular by American psychologists as it tends to make more sense when defining the term CER. The exact translation of Pavlov’s terms from Russian to English defines the term CER as Conditional Emotional Response.

How Conditioned Emotional Response works?


The process of acquiring a Conditioned Emotional Response works in the same theory as the classical conditioning learning method. An organism is exposed to a certain stimulus which then produces a biologically significant even and the connection is made. Emotional responses could be anxiety, happiness, sadness, pain, and variety of other emotions that can be triggered in an organism.

All emotional responses are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. Among the two subdivisions of the system (Parasympathetic system and Sympathetic nervous system), Sympathetic nervous system are responsible for variety of emotional responses depicted by an average person.

test anxiety, classroom, test

The range of emotions includes panic attacks, test anxiety, stage fright, and other similar emotions that are expressed while experiencing distraught or uneasiness. The system is automatically activated in the “fight or fright” situations, which then produces responses like increased heartbeat, sweating, feeling weak on the knees, and similar other symptoms.

These kinds of emotions/reactions are unwantedly or unconsciously acquired, and these even tend to stick to a person for a long while. These conditioned responses take up to 2-10 seconds to be seen, unlike the motor responses which are even seen as early as half a second.

According to the British psychologist Hans Eysenck, “All neurosis are essentially conditioned emotional responses” (Cunningham, 1984).

The Classic Example

Little Albert Experiment

John B. Watson and Rosaile Rayner conducted an experiment in 1920 called the Little Albert Experiment. The experiment involved a 9-month old baby, and the whole purpose of the experiment was to induce fear in little Albert. [Read moreClassical Conditioning and Phobias]

The experiment is the classic example of CER, Conditioned Emotional Response, as Little Albert was subjected to a certain stimulus in order to create a response of fear. The classic experiment involved CER, Watson and Rayner being unaware about the term at the time simply thought they were applying general conditioning principles to human behavior.

B.F. Skinner and William Kaye Estes were the first to use the term “CER, Conditioned Emotional Response” (1941).

Examples of Conditioned Emotional Response

CER is more common than one might think. The term CER might not be used to explain a certain response/behavior acquired after a certain experience, but the emotional responses learned due to conditioning are evidently found in practical life.

Example 1

 Plenty of people are attracted to the smell of gasoline. Going in depth to understand this, maybe they associated it with the pleasant trips they had in the car when they were kids or the rides around in motorbikes during adulthood. This unconscious conditioning thus resulted in the feeling of fondness at the odor of gasoline.

road trip, fun in car

Example 2

Imagine a person being beaten by a dog, more than once. He might remember the pain of the bite each time he comes across a dog (extreme condition). Best case scenario, even when the dog is simply trying to lick the person, he might feel threatened.

Example 3

Imagine having been given an electric shock after a certain sound. The fear conditioning establishes CER out of nowhere, and after one or two pairings, you are likely to show fear at the particular sound, having had a bad experience in the past.

There are plenty of other examples which can be explained by Conditioned Emotional Response. A class is always anxious at the news of a surprise test. And, stimulus like perfume smell could remind you of some person in your life and cause regret, laughter, or similar other emotions.