Exploring the mechanism of dishabituation



Publication Details

Steiner, G. Z. & Barry, R. J. (2011). Exploring the mechanism of dishabituation. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 95 (4), 461-466.


In this study we explored elicitation and habituation of the orienting reflex (OR) in the context of indifferent and significant stimuli, particularly aiming to clarify the mechanism driving dishabituation. An in-depth analysis of the mechanisms of electrodermal habituation and dishabituation was conducted, focusing on the role of state measures as determinants of the phasic response profile. Twenty-four young adult participants completed an auditory dishabituation task while electrodermal activity was recorded. Participants listened to a series of 10 innocuous tones of the same frequency (standards), followed by a deviant tone of a different frequency, and succeeded by 2¿4 tones of the same frequency as the initial 10 stimuli. All stimuli had a random stimulus onset asynchrony of 5¿7 s. Participants completed an indifferent condition in which there was no task in relation to the stimuli, and a significant condition where instruction was given to count the stimuli silently; order was counterbalanced between participants. As predicted, both skin conductance responses (SCRs) and skin conductance levels (SCLs) were larger for the significant than the indifferent condition. The initial phasic ORs were dependent on pre-stimulus arousal level, and there were significant decreases in both SCR and SCL over the first 10 standards in both conditions. Phasic response recovery was apparent to the deviant stimulus, and dishabituation to the following standard stimulus; both effects were enhanced in the significant condition. Sensitisation was apparent in SCL following the initial and deviant stimuli, but the extent of this was confounded with incomplete resolution of the preceding phasic OR in the significant condition. In the indifferent condition, dishabituation was independent of deviant-related sensitisation; this could not be tested in the significant condition. These findings suggest that dishabituation is not a process of sensitisation, but rather, a disruption of the habituation process.

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