Neural Adaptation vs Habituation – What are the differences?

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Curiosity Science Biology and Medicine Neural Adaptation vs Habituation – What are the differences?

  • As far as I know, both the terms seem to be synonymous with each other. Both changes the response to continuous stimuli at the neural level. What makes them distinguished from one another?

  • They do sound synonymous, but both are actually different concepts. I’ll try to explain these concepts in a way that I know.

    Neural Adaptation

    Neural adaptation is observed when there is a continuous and constant stimulus around us and our receptors slowly inhibit their responses to that particular stimulus. The important thing about this is that we could not control it over time. The best example for this is the human olfactory receptors. When you are exposed to a particular odour/stimuli for a very long time, (your own odour, the smell of your house and similar continuous stimuli), the receptors would hinder themselves to it and eventually ‘adapt’ to it. This means that the receptors send limited signals to the brain.

    Check this (and this) article that deals with this concept.

    Habituation

    Habituation happens with stimuli that occur intermittently or periodically. Most of the habituation process is a bottom-up process, which means this is totally driven by the external stimuli. This could be controlled and changed by us to a certain level if we pay close attention to the stimulus that is being habituated. A good example of this is our ears tuning out some of the frequently heard noise at our home. In this case, the information is sent to the brain but ignored.

    I hope this helps.

    • I thought that both are initiated by a continuous stimulus. Thanks. I’m clear now.

    • Habituation could also be widely seen in several psychological responses. Such stimulus per se is not totally related to habituation, but this is why animals and humans feel bored within their monkeysphere.

  • The example for neural adaptation says,

    When you are exposed to a particular odour/stimuli for a very long time, (your own odour, the smell of your house and similar continuous stimuli), the receptors would hinder themselves to it and eventually ‘adapt’ to it

    And for habituation,

    A good example of this is our ears tuning out some of the frequently heard noise at our home.

    I still don’t understand. Both are constant stimuli and how one differ from the other?

    • Yeah. You are right. Both are constant stimuli. But, think of it this way – Odour is something you don’t have a voluntary control over. Whatever you do, you cannot smell your own odour (This is also known as olfactory fatigue). On the other hand, you can still ‘un-habituate’ the continuous sound of your ceiling fan and listen to it again. Or a better example, you can still taste your favorite ice cream, though you can’t taste it the way you did for the very first time :) .


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