Book Definition:

A pattern of erratic behavior resulting from a demanding discrimination learning task, typically one that involves aversive stimuli

Quite Simply...

  • One who's behavior becomes unpredictable and erratic due to stress.
  • A difficult learning situation arises and a person/animal will start to deteriorate due to the stress.

Examples of Experimental Neurosis...

  • Midterm exams are coming up, a student is studying hard for these exams, he/she is so stressed out that every time someone tries to ask them a question or is disrupting their concentration, that student becomes aggressive and ornery.
  • In one of Ivan Pavlov's experiment with dogs the dogs started to snarl and snap at the handlers after they couldn't distinguished the circle and the ellipse from each other.
  • Pavlov suggested five ways of producing this type of breakdown in his dogs: (1) use of intense stimuli such as loud explosions or swinging
    the dog’s platform; (2) increasing the interstimulus interval (ISI) — the time interval between the condition stimulus and unconditioned stimulus; (3) use of difficult discriminations such as the circle-ellipse described above; (4) continually changing which stimuli the dog should respond to and which he should not respond to; and (5) subjecting the dog to physical stresses such as disease, accident, or surgery.


  • A weird but interesting experiment was done on white rats that had been forced to be in this experiment to test experimental neurosis. There was 6 rats all together; however, only three of them were used in this experiment. The white rats were strapped into a stand so they wouldn't be able to move or run away, but there was a reward and punishment for the rats. The rats would be rewarded with food if they hit bright-light but if they hit the dim-light, they were punished with an electric shock. The experimenters found that each rat had behaved rather differently after going through confusion for a while. For instance, one of the rats didn't want the experimenter to touch them because they had been shocked so many times and didn't know weather or not to trust the person. This research shows that experimental neurosis can be be different for everyone and everything on the planet; we each react differently to confusion.
  • For example, in an early experiment in Pavlov’s laboratory a dog was trained to salivate to a circle but not to an ellipse, a relatively easy discrimination for the dog. Then the experimenters gradually decreased the longer axis of the ellipse so that it approached being a circle. The dog had little trouble with the discrimination until the ratio of the semi-axes was 9 to 8. At this point the discrimination was quite difficult and the dog was in a conflict between salivating and not salivating to the ellipse. After three weeks with this conflict, the dog developed experimental neurosis. Now he no longer stood quietly in the test apparatus but struggled and howled. At this point he could no longer perform even the simplest of the circle-ellipse discriminations.

  • Another approach avoidance conflict that has produced experimental neurosis involved training a cat to approach a food dish for food and then shooting a puff of air in its face. The cat is caught in a conflict between approaching the dish for food and avoiding the dish because of the puff of air.

See Also...

Ivan Pavlov he provides insight to the study of experimental neurosis and has done the majority of the research in this field.

Classical Conditioning is what teaches us how to react to situations by conditioning us to react the same way every time.