What is habituation? how is it used to measure cognitive processes in infants?

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Correspondences should be sent to Lisa M. Oakes, Center for Mind and also Brain, University of California, Davis, 267 Cousteau Place, Davis, CA 95618, USA. ude.sivadcu

Habituation of looking time has come to be the typical method for studying cognitive procedures in insophisticated. This approach has a lengthy history and derives from the research of memory and also habituation itself. Often, however, it is not clear just how researchers make decisions around how to implement habituation as a tool to study procedures such as categorization, object representation, and memory. This post explains the difficulties for implementing this tool, and also explains a collection of best methods for its use to research perception and also cognition in infancy.

You watching: What is habituation? how is it used to measure cognitive processes in infants?


Habituation of looking time is a major tool for assessing psychological procedures in inintricate. It arised from Fantz"s observation (1964) that babies like to look at novel compared to familiar stimuli and findings that non-huguy animals" responses to stimuli decrease, or habituate, with recurring stimulation (e.g., Groves & Thompson, 1970). In habituation paradigms infants are consistently presented through one (or more) stimulus and also their looking time is videotaped (various other actions, such as sucking, Haith, 1966, or heart-rate responses, Horowitz, 1972, have the right to be recorded; the emphasis here is on looking time, which is the major measure once habituation is offered to examine infant cognition). Generally, infants" looking time decreases, or habituates, via repetitive exposure to the stimulus, and it increases to novel items. On the basis of Sokolov"s classical comparator design, researchers have assumed that this actions reflected the infant comparing the presently available stimulus through a remembered stimulus: as soon as similarity is detected infants" looking decreases, when differences are detected their looking time boosts (check out Colombo & Mitchell, in push, for a review). This recoincredibly of interemainder to novel stimuli typically is described as dishabituation, although in the pet literary works dishabituation refers particularly to renewed interest in the habituation stimulus (watch Groves & Thompchild, 1970).

Habituation of looking time has become a typical procedure for assessing a broad array of infants" abilities, consisting of memory, sensitivity to attribute combinations, and recognition of abstract properties (i.e., categories, facial expression). It is fairly straightforward to usage via babies ranging from newborns to toddlers. Although it does not need a computer, the availability of inexpensive computer systems and software application occurred by various labs has actually made it easy to test infants" responses to a range of stimuli.

Moreover, we recognize a lot around infants" habituation. Pioneering work revealed that infants look much longer at stimuli that are novel (Fagan, 1970; Fantz, 1964; Saayguy, Ames, & Moffett, 1964) or even more complicated (Brennan, Ames, & Moore, 1966; Cohen, 1972; McCall & Kagan, 1967; Thomas, 1965), and also that their habituation is influenced by determinants such as stimulus intricacy, and also infant age and also sex (Caron & Caron, 1969; Cohen, DeLoache, & Rissman, 1975; Friedmale, Nagy, & Carpenter, 1970; Miller, 1972; Wetherford & Cohen, 1973). Models of the process of habituation (e.g., Schöner & Thelen, 2006; Sirois & Mareschal, 2004; Thomas & Gileven more, 2004) have actually displayed that apparently irrelevant components (such as inter-trial intervals, number of trials, exactly how habituation is calculated) have the right to have actually a profound result on responding throughout the post-habituation test.

This “tools of the trade” paper defines key obstacles for utilizing habituation and also gives a collection of recommfinished ideal methods for adopting this tool to study infant cognition. The goal is not to provide a comprehensive review of what is known around habituation, yet to use this understanding to aid researchers style experiments. Keep in mind although some of the worries are widespread throughout measures, the focus here is on habituation, or presenting stimuli until infants" looking reaches some criterion, not on familiarization, or presenting all infants through a solved number of familiarization trials regardmuch less of changes in attention (e.g., Kovack-Lesh, Horst, & Oakes, 2008; Quinn, Yahr, Kuhn, Slater on, & Pascalis, 2002).

Challenges for using habituation

Before describing the recommfinished best techniques, 3 obstacles encountering researchers utilizing this tool are discussed.

Challenge 1: Infants have choices for some stimuli

Infants not just look much longer at novel than at acquainted stimuli (Cohen, Gelber, & Lazar, 1971), they additionally have actually choices for functions of stimuli, such as intricacy (Brennan, et al., 1966) and also whether the stimuli are static or dynamic (Shaddy & Colombo, 2004). Such preferences have the right to make infants" responding following habituation ambiguous. Consider as an instance a examine by Quinn et al. (2002; note although this research provided a fixed familiarization phase quite than habituation, the preference worries are also relevant to habituation studies). Following familiarization via a series of male encounters, 3- to 4-month-old infants through female primary caregivers preferred female deals with to male encounters. These infants showed up to have learned around male encounters in the time of familiarization, and also as an outcome preferred the novel female confront. However, another experiment revealed that infants through female major caregivers wanted female deals with even without familiarization via male faces. Hence, infants" looking in the initially experiment likely was influenced both by infants" a priori choices for female encounters and their learning throughout familiarization. Accuprice conclusions therefore require that researchers take actions to identify, and minimize the affect of, such choices.

Challenge 2: Infants" dishabituation is not a direct measure of all mental processes

In classic models of habituation, infants" dishabituation is thneed to reflect their acknowledgment that the brand-new stimulus differed from the remembered stimulus or stimuli. For instance, if infants dishabituate to a blue item adhering to habituation through a red item, we understand that they remembered the color, compared the colors, and perceived the distinctions in between the colors, as lengthy as the two items are similar in eextremely respect except color.

Conclusions around the psychological processes associated in dishabituation are less clear once novel and also familiar stimuli differ not just in perceivable, physical functions such as shade, direction of movement, place, or amount of occlusion, yet likewise in inferred attributes such as an actor"s goal, which object was the causal agent, or the level of physical assistance. When infants dishabituate to such alters it is clear that they have remembered, regarded, and also detected physical attributes of the stimuli associated via these non-viewed attributes (e.g., the direction an actor"s head is pointed, which object moved first, the amount of call between two objects). But, all you recognize from habituation is that babies have detected those physical differences; their dishabituation does not directly expose whether their interpretation of those physical differences is the same as an adult"s. Only via mindful experimental deindicators and converging evidence have the right to we attract conclusions that fads of dishabituation reflect infants" attention to or inferences around such non-visible functions.

Challenge 3: Infants" looking mirrors competing choices for novelty and also familiarity

Habituation measures are based on the assumption that infants" looking is influenced by novelty, and also that infants look much longer throughout test at novel items (Welch, 1974; Wetherford & Cohen, 1973). In truth, infants" looking shows competing choices for novelty and familiarity; when completely familiarized infants choose novel stimuli, however once not fully familiarized babies prefer familiar stimuli (Hunter & Ames, 1988; Hunter, Ross, & Ames, 1982; Roder, Bushnell, & Sasseville, 2000; Rose, Gottfried, Mello-Carmina, & Bridger, 1982). In some experimental deindicators any methodical choice is interpretable (e.g., Bahrick & Pickens, 1995). Since babies can choose either acquainted or novel stimuli, choices have to be evaluated making use of 2-tailed tests of significance.

Competing novelty and also familiarity preferences, yet, have the right to develop ambiguities for interpreting infants" responses in many type of experimental deindications. Consider, for example, the generally offered architecture in which infants" responses are tested to multiple novel stimuli. This design is powerful bereason we deserve to study how the very same infants respond to different kinds of novelty (e.g., alters in appearance, relationships among functions, some abstract property). But responding to these tests is ambiguous if it is not clear that babies are completely habituated (and also thus are most likely preferring novelty). Consider as an example a examine by Casasola (2005). Eighteen-month-old infants were habituated to numerous events in which different objects portrayed a specific spatial relation (e.g., an animal, a auto, a candle, and a peg all being inserted on a container) while “Look, it goes on” was spoken. They then were tested through (1) a acquainted object in a brand-new spatial relation (e.g., the peg was put in the container), (2) a novel object shown in the familiar spatial relation (e.g., a cup was inserted on the container), and (3) a novel object in a brand-new spatial relation. Infants dishabituated to (1) yet not (2). If infants preferred novelty, this pattern indicates that they detected the new spatial relation but not the brand-new object. But, if infants rather preferred familiarity, then the oboffered pattern actually suggests that infants attended to the acquainted object and also a failed to deal with the spatial relation. Fortunately, Casasola (2005) contained in the evaluation just infants that met the habituation criterion, and she reported that as a team infants displayed both low levels of looking to a completely familiar occasion presented after the criterion was met and showed high levels of looking to the entirely novel event. Therefore, in this case, we have actually confidence that infants were responding to novelty, and the first interpretation is correct.

Such analyses are not frequently consisted of in publiburned reports (indeed, frequently infants are not given a post-criterion test through a acquainted item or a test via a completely novel stimulus). An examicountry of 37 records publiburned in 2008 and also 2009 utilizing habituation to assess some element of infant psychological handling revealed that commonly tright here is not adequate indevelopment offered to permit us to be certain that recoexceptionally in the time of test shows a novelty choice (these 37 files were supplied to draw many kind of of the conclusions about widespread techniques explained here; a list of the records is accessible from the author). A challenge for researchers is to provide enough information for readers to recognize whether the pattern of responding during test reflects a choice for novelty.

Best practices

What complies with are a recommended set of best techniques for utilizing habituation. Due to the fact that habituation is a dynamic procedure figured out by a big variety of variables, it is impossible to recognize a set of rules that is correct in eexceptionally experiment. In addition, although these are the ideal methods for making use of habituation, some of the issues are appropriate for resolved familiarization actions. Undoubtedly, in considering these techniques, some investigators might identify that a solved familiarization procedure is even more proper for their research question.

Best exercise 1. Minimize the impact of a priori preferences

Adopting one or even more of the adhering to methods will minimize the impact of a priori preferences on infants" responding in the time of test.

1. Do not use as tests stimuli for which infant have a priori preferences

Although robust a priori choices for one stimulus category over an additional can suggest sensitivity to some stimulus differences, they likewise mean that infants" responding to those stimuli following habituation is affected both by habituation and those a priori preferences. The best exercise, therefore, is to use stimuli that are equally compelling to infants. However before, this exercise needs initially identifying whether choices exist, and also it is not automatically evident how to assess such choices. To be efficient, often a sepaprice team of infants are presented with a big variety of stimuli over multiple trials. In the main habituation procedure, in contrast, babies generally are presented via one or two novel and also acquainted stimuli on a smaller variety of test trials. Hence, the choices of one team of babies, derived in the conmessage of multiple stimuli on many trials, are offered to analyze the responding of various group of babies to a smaller sized variety of stimuli on a smaller sized number of trials. Since infants" preferences are virtually definitely context-dependent, choices assessed via a large number of different stimuli over several trials may not generalize to preferences assessed via a smaller number of stimuli on a smaller sized number of trials.

To be clear, any observed preferences are helpful for identifying potential problems for interpreting the data from habituation procedures. Researchers ssuggest have to be mindful around the kinds of comparisons they make between choices acquired in extremely various contexts. Clearly, direct statistical comparisons should not be made of infants" responding in the 2 contexts just explained. The many unambiguous way to evaluate the impact of preferences is to present the identical test phase (i.e., very same number and duration of trials, exact same trial orders) to one group of infants that receives the habituation phase and a 2nd group of babies who does not (view, e.g., Hayden, Bhatt, & Quinn, 2006). Then researchers can directly compare exactly how babies respond to the tests through and also without habituation.

2. Use the exact same stimuli during both habituation and also test (see also Bogartz, Shinsessential, & Speaker, 1997, “event by set” design)

Sometimes it is impractical to entirely get rid of stimuli based on a priori choices. Furthermore, choices themselves could expose understanding right into the processes under study. For example, Quinn et al. (2002) oboffered that babies familiarized infants via male deals with verified a novelty preference for female encounters, but babies familiarized with female challenge looked equally at the novel male and also novel female deals with. Quinn et al. unextended the asymmetry in infants responding to male and female faces only by using both sets of faces during familiarization. In this instance, the choices were not removed, but testing both conditions allowed concerns to be answered about the choices themselves, quite than the choices resulting in the researchers to draw inspecific conclusions. The suggest is that the exact same stimuli must be supplied as habituation for some infants and tests for other infants.

3. Use a variety of habituation and test stimuli

Using many type of stimuli in the time of habituation and test across infants have the right to minimize the influence of a priori preferences. A bigger stimulus collection also increases the generalizability of the findings. In addition, a priori preferences could be revealed by distinctions in between babies who were habituated to various stimuli (watch, e.g., Bahrick & Newell, 2008).

Best exercise 2. Maximize the variety of infants who actually habituate

Usually, in habituation research studies babies are presented with a stimulus or set of stimuli till the average looking on some block of trials decreases to some pre-mentioned criterion (e.g., 50% of what it was on initially block). Habituation is calculated by averaging infants" looking on blocks of trials and comparing those averages as the session progresses. Although the presumptions are that all babies that reach a criterion have actually actually habituated (Bornstein, 1985) and also are at the same level of handling (Colombo & Mitchell, 1990), infants" looking at any type of moment is actually affected by a number of variables, consisting of their processing of the stimuli, detection of novelty, interior events (e.g., a burp), a sound in the hallmeans, and so on. Because looking time does not specifically reflect habituation and dishabituation (watch, e.g., Richards & Casey, 1992, for a discussions of just how looking relates to different elements of attention), many type of components add to why infants" looking is fairly low or high on any kind of given trial. Therefore some babies will meet (or fail to meet) the habituation criterion by opportunity (Dannemiller, 1984; Thomas & Gileven more, 2004).

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This is a particular problem because habituation criteria vary throughout researches, and also thus most likely differ in exactly how many babies had in the last analyses did not actually habituate. Including different numbers of infants that actually habituated in the final analyses will adjust the contribution of the completing influences of novelty and also familiarity choices on infants" responding in the time of test. Although utilizing a habituation criterion allows the experimental session to be tailored to each infant"s individual style of looking, for this reason yielding low attrition, it is crucial to usage a habituation criteria that is neither as well lenient (causing including many kind of infants that habituated by chance) nor also stringent (resulting in excluding many kind of babies that did habituate). If the study question does not require that infants totally habituate—i.e., responding in the time of test does not require an unambiguous novelty preference yet just a systematic preference between 2 types of stimuli—the ideal practice may be to use a solved familiarization duration. This is certainly the best exercise if all babies will be consisted of in the analysis regardless of whether or not they meet the habituation criterion. However before, when habituation is provided, it is vital to encertain that most infants actually habituate. Adopting the adhering to four recommendations will rise the number of babies that habituate.

1. Use a stringent criterion

Cohen (2004) promoted using a decrease of at leastern 50% from the initial level of responding. This is the a lot of common exercise adopted. Requiring a larger decrement may minimize the effect of regression to the expect on infants" responding (Ashmead & Davis, 1996), yet may likewise expect that infants who did habituation are not consisted of in the last evaluation. Even a stringent criterion may not accurately classify all babies as habituators, for this reason violating the standard presumption that this procedure translates the infants along some dimension (Thomas & Gilmore, 2004). Therefore, adopting a stringent criterion is only one way to rise the number of habituators in the last evaluation.

2. In general, use a sliding window of 3 trials

The home window offered to evaluate habituation can be sliding or fixed, and it can vary in size (i.e., the variety of trials). When utilizing a running average (or sliding home window average), a brand-new average is calculated after each trial (i.e., trials 1, 2, and 3 are compared to trials 2, 3, and 4, and also so on). Such avereras cause brief sessions and also reduced attrition. When using a resolved window average, a brand-new average is calculated after each N trials (i.e., trials 1, 2, and also 3, are compared to trials 4, 5, and also 6, and so on). Such averperiods ensure that babies have the same exposure to numerous individual items; for instance, each of 3 stimuli can be presented when in each block of 3 trials and also habituation is assessed after trials 6, 9, 12, and so on. Meeting the habituation criterion is even more hard through a fixed window, practically certainly resulting both in fewer infants habituating by opportunity and in more babies who actually do habituate not meeting this stringent criterion. Researchers must adopt a addressed home window average as soon as it is essential that babies have actually tantamount expocertain to different stimuli offered in the time of habituation, yet it is essential to be mindful that it is unrecognized how this procedure affects attrition or the number of infants that actually habituate.

The size of the home window likewise is vital. Ashmead and also Davis (1996) caution that the dimension of the home window as soon as using a running window average have the right to affect accurately identifying habituators. They administer support that a running home window of 3 trials is much better than running windows of 2 or 4 trials (the optimal window size may be various as soon as making use of a fixed window average), although they ultimately recommend using their polynomial regression strategy that uses all the obtainable looking time (quite than simply the data in the baseline and criterion windows) to identify whether individual infants have actually habituated. In general, the majority of published research studies use a window of 3 trials, although some usage 2 or 4.

3. Use the initially home window as the baseline for habituation

Although a lot of researchers use this baseline, because infants" longest looks often take place after the initial trials (e.g., Peterzell, 1993; view also discussion by Groves & Thompchild, 1970) some researchers evaluate infants" habituation making use of their peak level of looking, or the window that represent the longest look (check out discussion of “floating point” criterion by Colombo & Mitchell, 1990). Since of various other factors that add to variations in looking, yet, using the top looking might cause including in the last analysis a larger number of babies who did not actually habituate. It is therefore a lot of conservative to usage infants" initial looks as the baseline.

4. Use a adequate maximum variety of trials

Determining the appropriate maximum variety of trials is not straightforward. On the basis of a Monte Carlo simulation, Dannemiller concluded that the correct maximum is 13 to 15 trials (although this will likely depfinish on a variety of determinants consisting of the kind of stimuli, the job, the infants" age, and so on). Increasing the maximum variety of trials will certainly rise the number of infants that actually fulfill the habituation criterion. However before, allowing as well many kind of trials to satisfy the habituation criterion may boost the number of infants that habituate by opportunity (Dannemiller, 1984), and also it may increase attrition as a result of fussiness. Providing too few trials may bring about lower attrition, yet it will lead to even more infants failing to accomplish the criterion.

It is not clear, however, that the maximum variety of trials is related to attrition. In the 37 recently publimelted research studies defined previously, there was no correlation in between the propercent of babies that faibrought about complete the study as a result of fussiness and also the maximum variety of trials (note that it is possible a relation would be observed if both publiburned and also unpublished research studies might be evaluated). Careful piloting have to be carried out to recognize the maximum variety of trials to encertain that a lot of babies accomplish the criterion and are consisted of in the last analyses.

Best exercise 3. Do not use infants" responding on the criterion trial as the baseline for dishabituation

When using a habituation criterion, looking on the last habituation trial by design will be low. As defined previously, determinants other than habituation add to variations in infants" looking on each trial. If infants" looking on the criterion trial is artificially low, their looking during the criterion trial underestimates their interemainder to familiar stimulus or stimuli, and their looking on the next trial will certainly be greater sindicate due to regression to the suppose (Bertenthal, Haith, & Campos, 1983; Cohen & Menten, 1981; Dannemiller, 1984). Thus, comparing infants" looking on the last habituation (i.e., criterion) trial and a novel stimulus presented on the following trial may over-estimate infants" dishabituation.

One solution is to existing post-habituation half of the infants with a acquainted stimulus and fifty percent through a novel stimulus (e.g., Young-Browne, Rosenfeld, & Horowitz, 1977). Therefore, the instrumental test is a between-subjects comparichild of post-habituation looking to the novel and also acquainted stimulus (view additionally the “partial-lag” design, Bertenthal, et al., 1983). This solution is optimal because infants" responding to the vital items will certainly be equally influenced by regression to the intend. However, this architecture is ideal suited as soon as the comparichild is between one novel and one acquainted stimulus; it cannot be conveniently enforced as soon as experimentation infants" responses to a number of novel items.

Anvarious other solution is to present all babies through a familiar and also novel items post-habituation (e.g., Cohen & Strauss, 1979). In this case, the baseline for dishabituation to the novel stimuli is the post-habituation trial with the acquainted item. This design is optimal bereason it relies on powerful within-topics comparisons, and also babies provide their own baseline for dishabituation while eliminating the dependence on a single trial that may by opportunity be artificially low. However before, it is not clear once the post-criterion familiar item must be presented. If it is presented before the novel items regression to the intend results will be different for the novel and also acquainted items. If novel and acquainted tests are totally counterbalanced, responding to and handling of the novel stimuli might interfere via responding to the acquainted item. Researchers should think about these concerns and determine the design that provides the many feeling provided the question of interemainder.

Best exercise 4. Report analyses only from babies that actually habituated

Non-habituating infants potentially contaminate responding during test bereason they favor familiarity rather than novelty (Cohen, 2004). However before, in the majority of published research studies the outcomes reported incorporate both infants who did and did not meet the habituation criterion. The finest exercise is to analyze information only from infants that habituated. Although this is the finest exercise, it is vital to remember that excluding non-habituators may reduce the generalizability of the results—the results have the right to be extfinished just to infants that would have actually habituated in the maximum variety of trials gave. If the variety of babies that habituate is little, excluding non-habituators biases the outcome towards the pattern exhibited by fast habituators (Schöner & Thelen, 2006), and fast and slow-moving habituators have been presented to have different responses to tests (Baillargeon, 1987). Designing experiments that ensuring that the biggest number of infants feasible have actually habituated is important. Adopting the following strategies will aid researchers be particular the analyses reflect infants" choice for novelty.

1. Analyze only data from infants who met the habituation criterion

Infants that did not fulfill the habituation likely will certainly have a familiarity preference, thus reducing any kind of all at once novelty choice.

2. Report infants" habituation responding

Readers must have actually confidence that infants are responding to novelty. This requires information about habituation. For example, the number of trials infants compelled to satisfy the habituation criterion—and also any distinctions in between infants tested in different problems, of different ages, and also so on—helps readers evaluate distinctions in habituation. Median levels of looking during the initial and criterion habituation trials (although it is not legitimate or vital to statistically compare their looking throughout these trials), and comparisons of looking on the criterion trial to a post-criterion baseline and also a fully novel test have the right to reassure researchers (and readers) that it is infants" responding to crucial tests is appropriately taken as a novelty choice.

3. Exclude babies that apparently habituated by chance

A little number of infants habituate and then exhilittle bit very lengthy looking (e.g., a number of standard deviations over the mean) at a post-criterion familiar test, suggesting they met the habituation criterion by possibility. Some researchers use infants" looking to this item to identify outliers. Excluding outliers must be done very closely, yet. Eliminating just infants that look reasonably long to the familiar might introduce a prejudice toward dishabituation. Of course, bereason infants" looking to the acquainted stimulus is primarily low, infants seldom have actually looking times to the familiar several SD less than the expect.


In summary, habituation of looking time is a powerful tool that deserve to be used to examine a vast array of content locations across the whole duration of inelaborate. Researchers who take on this tool need to understand also that infants" looking is complexly established by stimulus novelty and various other components. Unambiguous conclusions from habituation need consideration of the difficulties explained right here and also careful experimental design and also controls. A collection of 4 finest methods for implementing the tool is offered to aid researchers in designing experiments. Habituation will certainly continue to be a critical tool for aiding researchers make substantial contributions to our understanding of perceptual and also cognitive development in infancy.

Cara Cashon, Marianella Casasola, Janet Frick, and also David Rakison gave valuable comments on this paper. Preparation of this manumanuscript was made feasible by HD56018. Please carry out better information on funding body (name of organization and also that the approve was awarded to).

Additional resources

Colombo, J., & Mitchell, D. W. (in press). Infant visual habituation. Neurobiology of discovering and also memory.

Schöner, G., & Thelen, E. (2006). Using dynamic area concept to rethink infant habituation. Psychological Recheck out, 113, 273-299.

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Thomas, H., & Gileven more, R. O. (2004). Habituation assessment in inintricate. Psychological Methods, 9, 70-92.