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Ignoring the Innocuous: The Neural Mechanisms of Habituation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Samuel Cooke, Mani Ramaswami

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cognitive Neurosciences
Subtitle of host publication6th Edition
EditorsDavid Poeppel, George Mangun, Michael Gazzaniga
Place of PublicationCambridge, Massachusetts, USA
PublisherMIT Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780262043250
Published1 Apr 2020

King's Authors


Habituation is a form of learning that reduces behavioral responses to stimuli experienced repeatedly without reward or punishment. This fundamental form of learning is exhibited by a wide range of organisms. Habituation enables energy and attention to be devoted to stimuli that have already been established to be meaningful, as well as to novel stimuli that may merit exploration or avoidance due to their potential to deliver reward or punishment. The detection of novelty requires memory for all things familiar, a lasting neural imprint revealed as behavioral habituation. Great difficulties arise for organisms that are unable to ignore familiar and innocuous elements of the environment due the failure of habituation. Significantly, such difficulties are apparent across a range of psychiatric disorders. Early studies of habituation focussed on accessible sensorimotor circuits have recently been extended through several direct studies of how habituation processes are implemented via neural plasticity in the central nervous system. Together, these indicate that patterns of neural excitation triggered by novel stimuli can be attenuated with familiarity through the build-up of matching patterns of inhibition. Here we provide an integrated summary of current understanding of habituation, familiarity and novelty detection and discuss questions that remain to be answered.

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