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What is Non-Associative Learning? – Sensitization and Habituation

18 Jan 2019 10:14 AM | Joanne Tudge (Administrator)

Written by Niki Tudge

Non Associative learning is when you are not pairing a stimulus with a behavior. Non-associative learning can be either habituation or sensitization. It is the simplest form of learning.

Your reflexes are the relationship between a specific event and specific response.  By nature, reflexes are stereotypic, but the strength of a reflex response can be altered, it can be weakened through Habituation or strengthened through Sensitization.

When there is a reduction in response to a specific stimulus after repeated exposures to it this is known as habituation. For example, If you live close to an airport you may habituate to the sounds of planes coming and going, where guest visiting may ask how you can possibly bear to live there!  The degree of habituation and the speed at which it occurs is affected by several variables including the intensity of the stimulus, the duration of the stimulus and how many times the individual is exposed to the stimulus over a given time period (Chance, 2008).

Now let’s look at sensitization. Sensitization occurs when repeated exposure or a single exposure to a stimulus increases the intensity of the response. For example, if you

are walking down the hall right after watching a scary movie and your friend pops out and says BOO! you will startle more easily. The movie sensitized you. It sensitized you to other stimuli and it did so in one presentation!

Habituation requires repeated presentations whereas sensitization does not and habituation is related to the specific stimulus being exposed to whereas sensitization sensitizes to other stimuli.


Chance, P. (2008) Learning and Behavior. Wadsworth Cengage Learning 

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