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Techniques Conditioning > Action

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Action is the outcome of any conditioning or training of a subject. Also called 'behavior', it is a sequence of detectable acts, including movements, vocalizations, communication and anything else you can see, hear or otherwise sense.

Any action may be broken down into sub-actions, even the tiniest movement. An action can also be made up of a sequence of recognizably separate actions. Such sequences are finite, but can be quite long.

The goal of conditioning is to produce predictable action following some kind of signal or cue that triggers some kind of cognitive process. The action may be reinforced by offering a reward when it is completed.

Actions are usually desired and are the result of deliberate conditioning. Unwanted actions may also be conditioned, by accident or coincidence.


A dog owner says 'come' (the cue). The dog walks towards the owner and sits down (the action).

A horse trainer calls the horse by name (the cue). The horse at first just flicks its ears (the action). The trainer rewards this recognition, then gradually moves towards.

A parent says 'please get ready for school' (the cue). The child goes upstairs, washes, changes, sorts out books, then comes downstairs and stands by the door. The parent says 'well done!' (the reward).

A dog learns that when its owner sits at the table (cue), then putting on 'puppy eyes' and drooling leads to it being fed bits of human food (the reward).


Conditioning is rooted in Behaviorism, where there is little concern for things that cannot be empirically measured. As with other sciences, it focuses only what can be seen and measured.

The finite requirement of an action, with a beginning, middle and end, is necessary as, in conditioning, action is triggered by a cue and uses rewards (mostly at the end) to condition reliable repeatability of the action. When actions have no clear beginning or end, they are activities.

Between the cue and completion of the action, the mental processes could vary significantly. All that is important is that the action is predictable. However, since Behaviorism was started, much has been understood about cognitive, emotive and neural processes. As much as you can understand of these, the more chance you have of creating reliable actions.

Unwanted actions can be set up by unskilled trainers who accidentally condition their subject into the action. Unwanted actions can also be conditioned by other factors, such as barking at passing traffic.

See also

Stimulus, Cue, Habituation


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