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The Concept of Habituation
Habituation is a simple learning method characterized by a decrement in intensity of the neural or innocuous response to the repeated application of stimuli. Therefore, habituation allows an animal to ignore such stimuli as irrelevant and chooses not to respond to its application when repeatedly subjected to similar stimuli (Meredith, Stein, 1996).
Meredith and Stein (1996) note one such example to be a bird that becomes habituated and does not run away from people whom it could run before frequent stimulations are applied. Research conducted on the habituation of animals indicates that animals learn to positively or negatively associate specific stimuli by conditionally responding to the application of specific forms of stimuli.
Habituation is ubiquitously embedded in every organism’s sensory system and enables them afford different behavioral patterns in response to the hierarchal forms of habituation. An example is a dog that has been habituated to respond to a bell despite the absence or presence of a meal. Researchers view both aversive and defensive responses as often similar in magnitude with slight variations.
The varied intensity and response to stimuli and the resulting habituation is directly related to the intensity of the applied stimuli, a generally accepted principle by many researchers. However, the general consensus varies widely.
According to Miller, Morse, & Dorman (1977), different approaches in investigating habituation with repeated applications of stimuli indicate varied responses. However, results from such studies verify the habituation concept. One such is habituating people with different tones. If different groups are treated to different tones, the need to orient them to the stimuli arises.
This is the case with infants. When infants are habituated through the novel stimuli they respond inquiringly to the new stimuli than the old stimuli, clearly indicating novelty and habituation. Similarly, rats uniquely endeavor to investigate new objects added to a test environment clearly illustrating the novelty recognition identified above.
Factors that Affect Perceptual Learning
The concept of perceptual learning is influenced by the degree or extent to which individuals are conversant with an applied stimulus. A familiar stimulus leads us to perceive and build on what we have perceived. Therefore, learning is faster with prior experience than with a new stimulus. However, it is important to note the significance of attaching weight in distinguishing between stimuli.
Other influencing factors include the degree of positive and negative instances in determining the contrasting stimulus that may not be based on a simple established benchmark. The transition from a simple to difficulty stimuli determines the extent of discrimination necessary to create a distinct degree of orientation. That enhances later abilities to discriminate in a more difficulty environment.
Task demands for an animal significantly influence the perceptual learning process depending on specific needs associated with the learning task. In addition to this task is attention and feedback.
Miller et al. (1977) argue that the efficacy of a task is influenced by a rise above the learning level to a given extent before a drop is experienced. This provides a framework for the kind of response specific to stimuli and feedback.The attention and feedback paradigm critically relies on task demands and performance behavior for specific stimuli.
The behavior of animals particularly when exposed to new environments such as the supply of new food elicits discrimination. Though research indicates that this exposure revolves around habituation and mere exposure, detailed studies have shown that even animals need to adapt. This conflict leads to less overall assumptions about stimuli and resumption of the old habituation.
Effects of Stimulus Exposure
These effects include prevalence for familiar stimuli, priming facilitation, potentiated startle, and recapitulation. Miller et al’s. (1977) argument that the emotional variable of stimuli can rise in prevalence to specific stimuli when an animal is exposed to the stimuli is significant. This approach is commonly referred to as mere exposure and is characterized by lack of rewards or an event that evokes stimuli.
This is evident with many animals such as rats. Rats indicate neophobia by characteristically declining to consume new food that may seem strange to them.
However, as they become familiar with the new food, these animals become more and more attached and consume more and more of the food. In effect, familiarity breeds a stronger link. This behavioral paradigm can be reinforced through sensory plasticity without necessarily evoking stimuli (Miller et al., 1977).
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On the other hand, Miller et al. (1977) note that priming facilitation can enhance discrimination and identification at a faster rate than when introduced for the first time. This is based on prior activation of the sensory nerves in perception. That implies time is low and reactions are faster for stimuli that had been introduced compared to a newly introduced stimuli.
Another effect is potentiated startle. The magnitude of the startle caused by an incident like the burst of loud music can create a reaction which when habituated decreases.
However, background stimuli when combined with the habituated startle may cause the reaction to rise instead of declining. This is the case for identifying the amount of fear inherent in animals. Potentiated startles when incorporated with fear have the effect of causing higher reactions (Mondor & Breau, 1999).
The potential nature of recapitulations significantly increases the degree of response to stimuli. However, habituated recapitulated stimuli can be liked or disliked by the target animal, depending on the degree of orientation to the applied stimuli and the rules used to manipulate the stimuli.
Application of Stimuli to real life situations
In the real life environment, stimuli play a significant role in the treatment of various maladies including anxiety, phobias among others. Emotional flooding is identifiably a unique approach in exposing a target situation to controlled stimuli of fear.
This implies a decline in the fear results from repeated application of the stimuli. An example is if one fears riding on a horse, a ride on a horse may be recommended. This provides prolonged exposure to the subject that fears riding, with the consequences of alleviating the fears.
Different therapists propose different approaches of treating conditions associated with stimuli. Mondor and Breau (1999) view David Barlow to be a staunch proponent of the latter. Barlow asserts that maximum exposure to stimuli had the counter effect of alleviating the problem with certain patients. Such prescriptions have been shown to effectively reduce the anxiety associated with a specific patient on a specific event.
Other applications in the real life situations are virtual reality therapeutic exposures. This approach includes flight events that individuals that fear flying are treated to flight related stimuli by use of a helmet that is designed with the characteristics of virtual reality. Almost 70% success rates have been recorded.
Habituations are ubiquitously embedded in every organism’s sensory system and enables them afford different behavioral patterns in response to the hierarchal forms of habituation. It varies in intensity with the applied stimuli. Different Reponses however, have been identified to significantly influence the varied forms of response.
These responses are vital for the treatment of phobia, fear, and other forms of psychiatric problems. However, further research need to be conducted to scientifically reinforce the contentious issues related to these forms of treatments.
Meredith, M. A., & Stein, B. E. (1996). Spatial determinants of multisensory integration in cat superior colliculus neurons. Journal of Neurophysiology, 75, 1843-1857.
Miller, C. L., Morse, P. A., & Dorman, M. F. (1977). Cardiac indices of infant speech perception: Orienting and burst discrimination. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 29, 533-545.
Mondor, T. A., & Breau, L. M. (1999). Facilitative and inhibitory effects of location and frequency cues: Evidence of a modulation in perceptual sensitivity. Perception & Psychophysics, 61, 438-444.