Habituation and Adaptation in Cognitive Psychology

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Habituation and Adaptation in Cognitive Psychology

Habituation and Adaptation: While crossing a street, we need to see that suddenly there is a car racing around the corner and in our direction. When we interact with our family and friends, we want to be responsive of variations in their emotions and behavior so we can respond to them adequately. And yet, if we responded to every little change and stimulus in our environment, we would be quickly and completely overwhelmed. Habituation and adaptation are two processes which are used to deal with the overwhelming world.

  • Habituation

includes our becoming familiar to a stimulus so that we gradually pay less and less attention to it. The counterpart to habituation is dishabituation.

  • Adaptation

A variation in a familiar stimulus prompts us to start observing the stimulus again.

Both of these processes occur automatically. The processes include no conscious effort. The relative stability and familiarity of the stimulus oversee these processes. Any features of the stimulus that seem different or novel also prompt dishabituation or make habituation less likely to occur in the first place. For example, assume that a radio is playing instrumental music while you study your cognitive psychology textbook. At first the sound might distract you. But after a while you become habituated to the sound and hardly notice it. If the loudness of the noise were unexpectedly to change drastically, however, immediately you would dishabituate to it. The once familiar sound to which you had been habituated would become unfamiliar. It thus would enter your awareness. Habituation is not partial to humans. It is create in organisms as simple as the

mollusk Aplysia.

We generally utilize no effort to become habituated to our sensations of stimuli in the environment. However, although we usually do not consciously control habituation, we can do so. In this way, habituation is an attentional phenomenon that varies from the physiological phenomenon of sensory adaptation. Sensory adaptation is actually a reducing of attention to a stimulus that is not focus to conscious control. It usually takes place directly in the sense organ, not in the brain. We can utilize some conscious control over whether we notice something to which we have become habituated, but we have no conscious control over sensory adaptation. Let’s take an example, generally we cannot intentionally force ourselves to smell an odor to which our senses have become adapted. Nor can we consciously force our pupils to adapt or not adapt to opposing degrees of brightness or darkness. In contrast, if someone asked us, “Who’s the lead guitarist in that song?” we can once again notice background music.

Without habituation, our attentional system would be much more impressively taxed. How easily would we function in our highly stimulating environments if we might not habituate to familiar stimuli? Imagine trying to listen to a lecture if you could not habituate to the sounds of your own breathing, the rustling of papers and books, or the faint buzzing of fluorescent lights.

Habituation and Adaptation


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