As part of a task in a psychological experiment I have a "transformation table" that contains two rows of letters:

A    B    C    D    ...
Z    R    K    Q    ...

The participants are given a selection of letters (e.g. "B") and must transform them with the help of this table (e.g. "B" into "R").

To explain this procedure there is an example that gives a sample letter and a sample transformation, e.g.:

...    result
B      R

The text above the two letters should explain that the "B" is the letter that is given to the participants as "source material" or "input", and that the "R" is the result after the transformation.

What is the noun that describes the stimulus given in an experiment?

The verb used in this situation is "given", but there appears to be no noun with the corresponding meaning, since the noun "given" means something quite different, namely "a basic condition or assumption" (Merriam-Webster). And it is not a "prompt", because a prompt is not material to be processed.

The original German word I am translating this from is "Vorgabe". In this context it means "something that is given".

  • you mean given 'pattern', 'set', 'selection' or 'sequence'?
    – user49727
    Sep 18, 2013 at 20:53
  • Are they actually letters? Can't you call them that?
    – terdon
    Sep 18, 2013 at 20:55
  • I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "stimulus" here, but I suspect it's probably not the right word for the context. As regards the word you're actually asking for, it seems to me you want the word which would normally be used as the "column heading" above B in your example. That word is simply Input. Sep 18, 2013 at 20:56
  • @terdon Since both the "input" and the result are letters, calling both or one of them "letters" will be confusing. Also, there are more letters on the page (the transformed letters must be searched for in a sequence of letters).
    – user32638
    Sep 18, 2013 at 21:03
  • 2
    @ what: Well, let's suppose this experiment involves "incentive payments" to the participants for each transformation they perform. I can't see anything unusual in an impatient participant (seeking to maximise his income, perhaps) saying "I'm ready for the next input". But it would be really weird if he said "Give me another stimulus, please." Sep 18, 2013 at 21:25

4 Answers 4


What you are asking the participants to do is "decode" or "decipher" the text. As such, the "input" could be considered a code or a cipher.

Cipher - noun - secret or disguised way of writing; a code:

Usage: he was writing cryptic notes in a cipher

Usage: the information may be given in cipher

Alternate Definition: a thing written in a cipher.

Alternate Definition: a key to such a cipher.


Code - noun - system of words, letters, figures, or other symbols substituted for other words, letters, etc., especially for the purposes of secrecy:

Usage: the Americans cracked their diplomatic code

Usage: sending messages in code


While stimulus/response is a standard pairing in psychology experiments, I understand that you wish to avoid these.


a signal for action

anything that acts as an incitement to action

a starting point for a discussion or process can be used to begin it or act as a basis for it

  • Hmm, actually I like "cue". Isn't that what an actor is given when he forgets his text? That's pretty close to what goes on here.
    – user32638
    Sep 18, 2013 at 21:27

I suggest source which is less cybernetic and implies the start of a process.


The mathematical/dynamical-systems terms are

Initial Conditions:
Conditions with which a process is started.

Results or Resultant Conditions:
The results at the terminal-end point of the process.

Initial Variables/Parameters/Arguments:
The variables/parameters/arguments that are part of the initial conditions.

Initial Vectors:
The term vector is used when there is indirection to the conditions. For example disease vectors, vector of comprehension rates or directions. Vectors is suitably used when you have a matrix of initial values.

The term "given" is often used as descriptive participle for initial conditions.


Given an initial set of conditions ...
The given initial vectors/values/conditions/arguments/parameters are blah, blah, blah ...

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