Response spectra are of fundamental importance in earthquake engineering and represent a standard measure in seismic design for the assessment of structural performance. However, unlike Fourier spectral amplitudes, the relationship of response spectral amplitudes to seismological source, path, and site characteristics is not immediately obvious and might even be considered counterintuitive for high oscillator frequencies. The understanding of this relationship is nevertheless important for seismic‐hazard analysis. The purpose of the present study is to comprehensively characterize the variation of response spectral amplitudes due to perturbations of the causative seismological parameters. This is done by calculating the absolute parameter sensitivities (sensitivity coefficients) defined as the partial derivatives of the model output with respect to its input parameters. To derive sensitivities, we apply algorithmic differentiation (AD). This powerful approach is extensively used for sensitivity analysis of complex models in meteorology or aerodynamics. To the best of our knowledge, AD has not been explored yet in the seismic‐hazard context. Within the present study, AD was successfully implemented for a proven and extensively applied simulation program for response spectra (Stochastic Method SIMulation [SMSIM]) using the TAPENADE AD tool. We assess the effects and importance of input parameter perturbations on the shape of response spectra for different regional stochastic models in a quantitative way. Additionally, we perform sensitivity analysis regarding adjustment issues of ground‐motion prediction equations.