Awareness, a form of pre-associative learning

In a previous article, we talked about pre-associative learning as a mechanism used by species to respond to average stimuli and focus on the habituation process.

On this occasion, we will talk about the second type of pre-associative learning: consciousness.

What is consciousness?

We understood habituation as the decrease in the response of an organism to a stimulus by continuous presentation. Awareness is the reverse process, Since it consists in the increase of the response of an organism to a stimulus by the simple presentation of this one. In other words, to reach a state of increasing activation when receiving a type of stimulus.

For us to understand each other, the most representative case is the hated “beep-beep” of the alarm clock, which, when it rings, deeply alters us. The reproaches of a child, the sound of the ambulance, the screams … are environmental stimuli to which people usually overreact, so we are said to be aware of them. It is easy to become aware of the stimuli mentioned above because they are very disturbing stimuli. The more intense the stimulus, the more he is aware of it.

When consciousness doesn’t depend on intensity

There are, however, a number of stimuli which are not characterized by their intensity and yet we are aware of them. A good example of this is those things we say that give us anxiety, which can be very special like touching your hair when it’s wet, crunching bones, or more stretchy things like scratching the board with your fingernails or chewing paper. Payment.

In general, when someone is in a state of high activation, the process of sensitization to environmental stimuli is accentuated. When we are angry, under a lot of stress or with a huge Sunday hangover, any stimulus in the environment is able to upset us and turn us into real beasts.

From now on, when we see someone very sensitive, we must understand that he is in a period of high consciousness with the environment in which he is, so it will be better to let him enjoy the silence.

Combine addiction and awareness

The same stimulus can cause habituation or sensitization, depending on the intensity and the person’s learning history.

For this reason, we act with surprise when someone we know overreacts to stimuli that we have not even managed to perceive. In these cases, we are used to it, while the other person is sensitized to the stimulus.

The duration of the process

In most cases, awareness only occurs in the short term, Because in this way, it allows to enter a state of alert before new and potentially dangerous phenomena.

However, it can become chronic which is a problem. If their duration is greatly prolonged in time, awareness can lead to the emergence of future stressors which risk being associated with other environmental stimuli by classical conditioning and can lead to future phobias.


Yet not everything that makes us react is bad. Walking down the street and automatically recognizing the faces of acquaintances, or receiving the caresses and the contact of someone who we wish to be more and more pleasant, makes us reconcile ourselves with this mechanism inherited from evolution.

It should be understood that this process is highly adaptiveAs this allows us to focus our attention on stimuli that could endanger us. However, we no longer live in caves or are surrounded by predators so in an advanced society, this learning mechanism, present in all species, often works against us.

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