Sensory Adaptation

This is the decreased sensitivity as a result of a prolonged exposure to constant stimulation (Adibi, Zoccolan, & Clifford, 2021). This occurs because nerve cells starts to fire less frequently to unchanged stimulus and thus the sensory receptors respond less. Sensation is the process through which people receive information from the surrounding. Sensory adaptation decreases our awareness and attentiveness of a constant stimulus. As a result, less attention is paid to the stimulus. Sensory adaptation is important because it frees up people’s resources and attention to attend to useful stimuli in the surrounding (Wolfe, Kluender, & Levi, 2018).  Perception is about how we select, organize, and interpret sensory information.

There are several examples of sensory adaptation in day-to-day life. One perfect example is when I first moved to the city. I found the urban sounds such as the sound of traffic irritating and disturbing, especially at night when I want to sleep.  It took me a couple of weeks to tune out the sounds. I came to learn that there is enormous amount of sensory adaptation taking place with the sense of hearing. Simply put, city dwellers living nearby busy roads are unaware of the disturbing sound of constant traffic outside their houses. However, if someone visits from a quieter rural place without traffic, that person will find the constant urban sound very irritating.  But the irritating noise abates over time as one starts to adapt. Sensory adaptation also occurs with the sense of taste. When I take the first bite of a lemon, I notice the strong bitterness and sourness. But after two or more bites, the taste buds adapt and the lemon starts to taste less sour.


Adibi, M.,  Zoccolan, D., & Clifford, C. (2021). Sensory Adaptation. Frontier in Systems Neuroscience, 15:1-22

Wolfe, J. M., Kluender, K. R., & Levi, D. M. (2018). Sensation & perception.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press

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