Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Journal 6: My good and bad experiences with Sensory Adaptation (Retro Personal Entry)

(I am transcribing journal entries from before I started this net-journal. This one is from Early College.)

Psychology Instructor: Fred Sanborn

When we smell, taste, or otherwise sense something vividly, and the sensation becomes less and less after repeated sensing, that is sensory adaptation. Apparently, whether we like the sensation or not, we still become less sensitive to them. This is bad when they are senses we really like.

The positive side of sensory adapting is when a room, for example, smells like moss, mildew, or molds. At first, it may smell strong enough that I do not like it. If I have to use the room often enough, the smell tends to decrease over time, to the point when I do not mind it anymore.
This is also true of anything I may eat regularly. If I need to eat an unsatisfactory food often, then my tongue also adapts so it does not taste as bad as it does. This may have been a regular occurrence in cafeteria lunches back in High School or earlier, depending on the quality of food the cooks prepared.
Another adaptation is the regular noise of my computer in my room. When my family first got my computer in 1998, whenever everything else was quiet, the humming sound of the PC would reduce the serenity of a quiet room. However, with constant use, I have gotten accustomed to it. Often, I do not know the sound is even there.
The bad aspect of sensory adaptation is when I sense something I really want to keep sensing, but the sensations keep reducing over time anyway. One example was on the first day of Middle School. Apparently, plenty of girls sprayed themselves with various forms of aphrodisiacs (even the boys, for some reason, had flavorful scents.) I liked it a lot, but started to notice the scents were becoming weaker and weaker. I stopped noticing them entirely by approximately mid-September (of the 1997-1998 school year.)
However, when I go to various teenage hangouts, including "The City" in Salina, I strongly notice those wonderful scents again. I could have sworn they were they same as the scents I noticed in Middle School, but they came from different people in different places. It is a mystery when I notice the same smells that I have sensed before, but in different settings! I could not understand why this is the case, as there is nothing in the textbook that discusses this in particular. Perhaps it is because just as someone gets immune to a certain medicine, I got immune to certain smells in a place I went to regularly. That may be the equivalent of a "reverse placebo" - you get more resistant to it unless you start taking a pill that is a different shape, brand name, and oclor, but with the same ingredients.

Apparently, sensory adaptiations will be a fact of life for years to come, at least until nano-medicines of the future let you choose what you want to smell at will, and how strongly you want to smell your chosen scents. As of now, though, sensory adaptations serve a beneficial and inconvenient purpose, so I will have to live with it for plenty of years to come.

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