Habituation and Sensitization (Conditioning Series)

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This is the first lesson in a series on conditioning, and this first lesson's pretty quick. We're just going to go through a few concepts on non associative learning, habituation sensitization. And one of the great things about this series of lessons on conditioning, is they take us all the way up through about here, even here.

So, whereas, a lot of lessons are covering one bullet point or two, you're getting a lot of bang for your buck with this series. We're starting here with Non-Associative Learning, which is really simple. And then, we'll go into these other concepts which have all sorts of vocab, lots of examples, and end with observational, which is pretty straightforward.

So, this particular lesson, just these two concepts. Non-Associative Learning, as a category of learning, refers to processes in which repeated exposure to a particular stimulus results in a strengthening or it could be a weakening of a particular response. And it almost always refers to some kind of physiological state or something to do with perception rather than conscious behaviors.

Habituation is when a stimulus produces a less intense response over time. One example of this is the experience of walking into the movie theaters. Initially, the smell of popcorn is really strong. One of the first things people notice when they go in. Definitely a sales technique on part of the owners. But by the time you leave the theaters or, really, sometimes even leave the lobby, you hardly notice the smell at all.

Your senses have adapted, they've habituated. Another example, which takes place over a course of several weeks rather than several minutes, would be people who move from towns to cities often find that the traffic is initially really loud and maybe they have difficulties sleeping or even wake up when sirens go off. But over time, their sense modalities and brain are able to filter out a lot of that information because it's become habituated.

Sensitization, on the other hand, is the opposite. It's when a stimulus produces a more intense response over time. And the most classic example of this is called the startle response. This is something you see in people, and other animals, who have experienced trauma. And, what we see, is that when people return from combat, for instance, they sometimes have strong reactions to loud, sudden sounds and movements.

And the significant aspect about this is that, instead of the process of habituation, it's not like they get used to it. But for the most part, the startle response is strongest in the people who've had the most of this type of exposure. Another is, reverse drug tolerance. Something that's not all that common, but it's definitely a phenomenon.

An example here, whereas, many drugs initially promote tolerance, some people actually become sensitized to the effects over time. Some advanced alcoholics reach a state where a very small amount of liquor can intoxicate them, and a lot of this is due to a breakdown in the liver and inability to process the toxins but it is also due to strengthened neural pathways. And what happens in this case is that the neural pathways becomes so entrenched that even a small reminder, so to speak, like a really small drink can trigger off those pathways.

And so, it will produce a feeling of intoxication. However, this definitely isn't the norm for alcohol progression, so this is just one example that is common but not the most common scenario. Associative Learning refers to the topics we're gonna go over in the next several lessons. So that's gonna be classical conditioning, operant conditioning.

And I wanted to just introduce it here, in this lesson, so we can get the general landscape of these two general categories, non-associative and associative. Associative Learning is the process through which a previously neutral stimulus elicits a change in behavioral responses as a consequence of the repeated pairing of the stimulus and the response. So, that's a bunch of, kind of, garbeldy gook and probably means something to most of you, but might not be completely clear yet.

So, that's what we're gonna be going through in the next few lessons. And, like I said, the two types are classical and operant conditioning. So I've gotten this question before. Wait a minute, so how is associative learning exactly different from sensitization? If we go back to this definition, the process through which a previously neutral stimulus, change in behavioral response, consequence of repeated pairing stimulus response, that sounds a lot like sensitization.

The answer is twofold. First of all, is that, actually, a lot of times you're observing both at the same time. Many situations that produce sensitization also actually produce classical conditioning, both types of learning often involved, and I'll show you an example in a sec, here.

But the main difference between the two is that non-associative learning is really, mostly, limited to the realms of sensory perception. It's very physiological. An example here. Again, combat. So after returning from combat, an individual has a heightened sensitivity to guns.

The non-associative learning aspect of this, is that there's a physiological sensitivity to the sound of the bang itself, the actual sound. And often, this sensitivity is generalized. Other loud noises will produce a similar type of startle response. The associative learning aspect of this is, an overall feeling of panic in relation to guns, as a whole, so even the idea of guns, having a dream about guns, seeing the word written, gun.

That's not a physiological sensitivity, it's more of an association. The end result, however, at least in these case, is going to be similar. It's going to be some sense of panic or startle. The difference is the complexity of the stimulus itself. A sound of a bang is a very simple one dimensional, an idea of a gun has many elements associated with it.

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