A stimulus causes an action or response, like the ringing of your alarm clock if you didn't sleep through it.

Stimulus is a word often used in biology — something that causes a reaction in an organ or cell, for example. In financial and economic contexts, a stimulus may be an incentive: the money you spend on your membership is a stimulus for hitting the gym. Though it can be a synonym for stimulant, they are not always used interchangeably. A stimulant is often a chemical or drug that increases activity — think caffeine. For more than one stimulus, use stimuli, not stimuluses.

Definitions of stimulus
  1. noun
    any stimulating information or event; acts to arouse action
    synonyms: input, stimulant, stimulation
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    elicitation, evocation, induction
    stimulation that calls up (draws forth) a particular class of behaviors
    the sudden stimulation provided by strong drink (or certain drugs)
    something causing excitement or stimulating interest
    negative stimulation, turnoff
    something causing antagonism or loss of interest
    conditioned stimulus
    the stimulus that is the occasion for a conditioned response
    reinforcement, reinforcer, reinforcing stimulus
    (psychology) a stimulus that strengthens or weakens the behavior that produced it
    cue, discriminative stimulus
    a stimulus that provides information about what to do
    positive stimulus
    a stimulus with desirable consequences
    negative stimulus
    a stimulus with undesirable consequences
    positive reinforcer, positive reinforcing stimulus
    a reinforcing stimulus that serves to increase the likelihood of the response that produces it
    negative reinforcer, negative reinforcing stimulus
    a reinforcing stimulus whose removal serves to decrease the likelihood of the response that produced it
    bonus, fillip
    anything that tends to arouse
    delight, joy, pleasure
    something or someone that provides a source of happiness
    annoyance, bother, botheration, infliction, pain, pain in the ass, pain in the neck
    something or someone that causes trouble; a source of unhappiness
    aversive stimulus
    any negative stimulus to which an organism will learn to make a response that avoids it
    concern, headache, vexation, worry
    something or someone that causes anxiety; a source of unhappiness
    grief, sorrow
    something that causes great unhappiness
    type of:
    knowledge acquired through study or experience or instruction
  2. noun
    a set of measures designed to encourage the economy during an economic downturn
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    type of:
    economic policy
    a government policy for maintaining economic growth and tax revenues
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