Reduction of an animal's behavioral response to a stimulus, as a result of a lack of reinforcement during continual exposure to the stimulus. Habituation is usually considered a form of learning in which behaviours not needed are eliminated. It may be separated from most other forms of decreased response on the basis of permanence; the habituated animal either does not resume its earlier reaction to the stimulus after a period of no stimulus, or, if the normal reaction is resumed on reexposure to the stimulus, it wanes more quickly than before. Vital responses (e.g., flight from a predator) cannot be truly habituated.
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In psychology, habituation is the psychological process in humans and animals in which there is a decrease in behavioral response variation to a stimulus after repeated exposure to that stimulus over a duration of time.
Habituation is frequently used in testing psychological phenomena. Both adults and infants gaze lesser at a particular visual stimulus the longer it is presented. The amount of time spent looking at a new stimulus after habituation to the initial stimulus indicates the effective similarity of the two stimuli. It is also used to discover the resolution of perceptual systems. For instance, by habituating someone to one stimulus, and then observing responses to similar ones, one can detect the smallest degree of difference that is detectable.
Dishabituation is when a second stimulus is presented in unison with a primary stimulus, and may briefly increase habituated response toward the primary stimulus until an organism distinguishes, or discriminates the differences between two different stimuli. Dishabituation has been demonstrated as being inherently different than psychological sensitization.