Orienting Responses and Conditioning of Electrodermal Responses


Address requests for reprints to: John A. Stern, Washington University Behavior Research Laboratory, 1420 Grattan Street, St. Louis, MO 63104.


This paper reviews our continued concern with the identification of electrodermal response measures to which we are willing to accord the label conditioned, contingent or conditional. One restriction previously held, namely, that dealing with the learning curve associated with the development of conditional responses, has been discarded. We are now willing to accept the position that conditional responses may extinguish during conditioning and would like to attribute such “extinction with reinforcement” to the possibility that “temporary connexions” evolve during the conditioning process. We now conceive of two types of anticipatory responses (ARs): one, a specific response which should become temporally localized with respect to the UCS, and the second, an increase in nonspecific responses which occur at random points in time following CS and preceding UCS presentation. The OR to stimulus onset is a particularly difficult response with which to work, especially in the context of simple (opposed to discriminative) conditioning. This response appears to reflect conditioning via a marked retardation of habituation. Proper controls, against which to assess conditionability of this response, are difficult to specify. It is our contention that a wide variety of response (OR to stimulus complex onset and termination; ARs; UCRs; nonspecific responses during CS presentation; and intertrial interval nonspecific responses) can be affected by the conditioning process. Whether these responses should be given the label “conditioned” is a question which has, in our opinion, yet to be answered.