Neurological Thresholds

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Neurological thresholds refer to the amount of stimuli required for a neuron or neuron system to respond. When the nervous system responds really quickly to a sensory stimulus, we say there is a low threshold and when the nervous system responds more slowly than expected, we say there is a high threshold for responding. All of us need a balance between low and high thresholds so that we notice just enough things to keep aware and attentive, but not so many things that we become overloaded with information and feel distracted.

At the extreme ends of the neurological threshold are habituation (related to high thresholds) and sensitization (related to low thresholds). Habituation refers to the process of recognizing familiar stimuli that do not require additional attention (Dunn, 2000). For young children, habituation is essential so they might focus their attention on the activity at hand. Without this process, children would be constantly distracted by the variety of stimuli that are present in the environment. Sensitization is the process that enhances the awareness of important stimuli. It is significant to development because it allows the child to remain attentive to the environment while engaged in play or other learning. The ability to modulate (organize/ balance information from all sources) responses of the nervous system (i.e., balance between habituation and sensitization) permits the young child to generate appropriate responses to stimuli in the environment.

References: (Baranek & Berkson, 1994; Dunn, 1997a) (Dunn, 1994, 2000; McIntosh, Miller, Shyu, & Hagerman, 1999; Wilbarger, 1995)

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