The habituation technique is one of the core methods used in psychological research to study the cognitive development of infants. On the one hand, this modus operandi helps us to determine the existence of a specific cognitive and perceptive process in infants. On the other hand, an erroneous or inaccurate interpretation of the process will certainly result in wrong conclusions which could mislead the direction of future studies. Hence, this technique should be used scrupulously, due to the fact that alternative designs and/or procedures of the same study can lead to different results. The aim of this essay is to highlight the importance of examining all the variables that influence the outcomes of a study. To begin with, this essay will illustrate and analyse the habituation technique in general terms; secondly, it will focus on one case study by Schwartz & Day (1979) which uses this method. Finally, in order to reveal some of the weaknesses of the above study, this essay will offer an alternative explanation for the results developed by Cohen & Younger (1984), followed by a further consideration.
Due to the fact that infants cannot communicate their feelings as adults do, a method is needed to apprehend what and how infants are able to perceive from the physical and social world (Bremner, 2003). The habituation technique measures behaviour through direct observation, a procedure used by researchers to obtain data by watching carefully and reporting the information acquired, explained by Glassman & Hadad (2004) as a strategy to gather information in a way that does not take into consideration what the individual says. Thus, it can be considered as a valid procedure for experimental research in infants. The habituation phenomenon is related to the gradual decrease in response recovery of an individual over a frequently repeated exposure to a stimulus (Messer, 2008). To exemplify, if a visual stimulus is repeatedly showed to an infant, it will be seen that its attention will steadily decrease: this phenomenon is called habituation and in this case can be related to the existence of a visual memory (Bremner, 2003). To prove this theory, a new stimulus should be presented to the infant, and if the looking time increases (dishabituation) it is true to say that it can discern between two objects, and thus that it possesses a visual memory (Bremner, 2003). This method can be used to evaluate the infant faculties of sight, smell and hearing by changing the features of the habituated and novel stimuli (Benbersky & Sullivan, 2007). One of the most controversial problem of the habituation technique concerns the case in which the tested infant shows an increase in responsiveness rather then a decrease in the response recovery of a frequently repeated stimulus, a process called sensitization (Groves & Thomson, 1970). A solution to this issue can be deducted from the studies of Groves & Thomson (1970) on habituation (Schwartz & Day, 1979), where they postulate habituation as a dual process theory, in which there is a co-existence of two divergent procedures, namely habituation and sensitization (Groves & Thomson, 1970). The two researchers founded their hypothesis on behavioural and physical evidence asserting that both habituation and sensitization (behavioural evidence) are linked to the somatic part of an individual through interneurons (physical evidence) defined as plastic since they are adaptable to change (Schwartz & Day, 1979). Groves & Thomson (1970) argue that the most influential factors in shaping the above processes are the intensity and the frequency of a stimulus, with sensitization prevailing when the former is high and habituation prevailing when the latter is high. Therefore, in order to obtain habituation, the different sets of stimuli presented in a test will need to have an even or similar level of intensity and frequency (Schwartz & Day, 1979). To have a practical idea of habituation, the study conducted...
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