Habituation: Attention in Children

Habituation: Attention in Children
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  • 0:07 Development
  • 0:52 Habituation
  • 2:12 Dishabituation
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

As infants grow, they learn how to pay attention to the things that are most important. In this lesson, we'll look at the attentional processes of infants, including the key concepts of habituation and dishabituation.


Mya just had a baby, and she loves to watch the way he looks at the world around him. Her son Parker seems to pay attention to everything around him. It's like he's learning about the world around him at every moment. But she's also noticed that sometimes he seems not to be paying attention, and she wonders why sometimes he seems to soak everything up and sometimes seems not to pay attention at all.

Like other babies, Parker is developing, or growing, and learning from the world around him. Attention is a key part of learning, and babies are no exception. Let's look closer at the attentional processes of babies: habituation and dishabituation.


Remember that sometimes Parker seems to be soaking up everything and sometimes seems to not pay attention at all. Mya wonders what causes Parker to pay attention at some times and not others.

Habituation is when a child becomes desensitized to stimuli and stops paying attention. Any parent who has ever told her child 'no' too many times knows what habituation is; the child will start to ignore the word 'no' because it becomes so normal. Think about habituation, like when you walk into a dark room. At first, the room is so dark that you can't see anything. But slowly, your eyes adjust to the darkness, and you can see a few things. Your eyes are used to the darkness, and you almost don't notice it anymore.

Habituation is actually a good thing; it indicates that the child is learning. For example, when there's a loud noise, Parker is startled and looks at whatever makes the noise. He is scared that the loud noise might mean danger. But when the noise is made over and over again, Parker learns that the noise does not mean danger. After all, it's happening over and over and nothing bad is occurring. So Parker stops paying attention to it and pays attention to something else.

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