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Sensory Adaptation

According to Carole Wade and Carol Tavris, sensory adaptation is the reduction or disappearance of sensory responsiveness that occurs when stimulation is unchanging or repetitious. Senses are designed to respond to change and contrast in the environment. When a stimulus is unchanging or repetitious, sensation often fades or disappears. Sensory adaptation has it's beneficial effects along with it's negative ones. Sometimes the adaptation causes people to spares us time and effort by not responding to certain information. Other times it causes us to miss something important...which could have a drastic outcome.
Taking into account that everyone has senses, sensory adaptation is a large part of life. Everyone has experiences in which adapting to certain stimuli have effected them in positives and negative ways.

Parents calling for a child is a stimulus, which in turn causes the child to become alert and answer the call. When a child is young, his/her parent's voice is certainly a comfortable sign considering it is one that the child recognizes. It usually is followed by a smile or a sense of happiness. When a child becomes older and more responsible, the voice of the parent takes a different role. The voice could be punishing or threatening, displaying a sense of disappointment and anger. The child is then faced with stimuli that can range from beneficial to dangerous, considering the volume and tone. If a child is called upon by a parent with a friendly, passive and polite voice, the child will respond willingly. This stimulus causes the child to think that maybe he/she is going to be rewarded by past experiences when he/she was young. When the stimuli is loud, angry and aggressive, the child will become scared and maybe not respond; knowing that this stimulus will lead to a punishment or something worse. Sometimes the stimuli are repeated so many times, regardless of volume and tone, that the subject (child) doesn't respond at all. This stimulus becomes to frequent and unimportant which will certainly cause a negative instance.

One instance in which I experienced my sensation fade was over the summer. I forgot to take the trash out one week. So I placed the bags in the garage. As the weeks progressed I became very busy with work and the trash day seemed to slip my mind every week. The house began to smell and I would always tell myself that I have to bring out the trash this week…but it would never happen. Eventually I got adapted to the smell to the point that I didn’t notice it at all. It was only if I had invited people over that I would be reminded of it because it was new to them. So initially the stimuli, which was the smell of the trash, was an odorous, bothersome scent of trash. As I repeatedly smelled it, the sensation faded leaving me to not notice it at all.

Another instance in which sensory adaptation has affected my life is when I’m in the classroom. If a teacher is giving a lecture in a monotonous voice, about a subject that really isn’t too interesting, my attention will fade. The stimulus is the professor speaking. I’m usually alert and paying attention to what ever he/she is saying, but as the lecture becomes timelier and their speech becomes more monotonous, I delve into my own world where I don’t even notice another person is speaking. The teacher’s lecture and notes become too repetitious, and my sensation of being alert completely faded.

What do a boring lecture; a parent's voice and a smelly odor have in common? They are all stimuli causing some sort of reaction. If they are repeated enough they can cause a subject to adapt to them, reaching a beneficial or negative response. Sometimes the stimuli can be varied, such as the volume and tone of a voice calling a name, and others are the same all the time. The important factor to whether a reaction will be positive or negative, is the amount of careful attention given from the subject.

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