Why is it that some of us feel anxious about public speaking while others look forward to it? We behave differently in different situations because we respond to that situation in different and unique ways. Someone who is anxious about speaking to an audience is probably thinking about all the things that can go wrong. On the other hand, someone who is comfortable speaking to large audiences probably has a completely different story playing in their head.

Now imagine that you give a pep talk or share a joke with the anxious speaker before they get up to speak. It’ll act as a distraction and could help the speaker feel relaxed. This shows that our response can change if our perception of the situation changes. Let’s explore this in detail through the stimulus organism response theory.

What Is The Stimulus Organism Response Theory?

The Stimulus Organism Response model (SOR Model) was a critique of the Stimulus Response (SR) theory. The latter suggests that feelings and behaviors are caused by the external environment. The SR model, however, doesn’t take into account the ‘organism’ or person responding to the stimulus. It was observed that a response could be shaped by a person’s feelings and emotions and therefore, the SR theory was incomplete.

The SOR model in psychology suggests that the ‘O’ or the organism has an active and mediating function. The stimulus organism response formula became a medium to understand the complexity of human behavior.

In short, the stimulus organism response theory states that there’s a stimulus that triggers a response based on the internal feelings or behavior of an organism (person). This internal processing of the stimulus can be conscious or unconscious. It further triggers an emotion that leads to a response. The resulting response can be internal, like an increased heart rate, or external, like crying.

The Importance Of The SOR Model

To a great extent, the SOR theory in psychology helps us understand the reasons behind a person’s behavior. It is therefore very relevant when it comes to addressing human behavior-related issues. Most of our behavior is a reflection of certain stimuli influencing our inner feelings. If we want to study someone’s behavior, we need to understand how different stimuli can affect their mental state.

In 1974, Albert Mehrabian and James A. Russel further developed the SOR model by studying consumer behavior. In this model, the environmental stimuli (S) are said to cause two types of behavioral responses (R)—approach or avoidance. These behaviors are a result of people’s internal evaluations (O) to different cues in the environment. People’s decision-making methods can be better analyzed using the Mehrabian-Russell SOR model.

Let’s look at how different types of internal evaluations affect our decision-making abilities.

  1. Approach Theory: 

We approach environments that make us feel happy, joyful, and comfortable. We respond positively to such environments. For example, you may want to continue to work at an organization that has your best interests in mind because it creates a pleasant experience.

  1. Avoidance Theory:

We tend to avoid environments that are boring or cause unhappiness. Besides, we often avoid settings that don’t let us have any control over the situation. Interestingly, we even avoid situations that give us excessive control, i.e. there are too many responsibilities. For example, some people quit their jobs because they feel overburdened by the workload and don’t get enough time to look after themselves and their families.

This SOR model reminds us that human behavior is a result of past, personal or observed experience. Our behavior can be influenced and responses managed if there’s a change in the way we perceive a stimulus. Take the avoidance theory example. Organizations can boost employee engagement by prioritizing work-life balance. It’s likely to reduce attrition rates.


Harappa Education’s Creating Solutions course focuses on the SOR theory in one section. It’ll teach you to explore various perspectives and keep an open mind while analyzing problems. Defeat your problems before they defeat you!

Explore topics such as Root Cause Analysis, 5 Whys Analysis & Pareto Analysis from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skill

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