Have you ever had a new filling or crown placed that felt kind of foreign? It was smooth as silk, it wasn’t pointy and the bite felt just right. But yet, it was different. Your tongue acted like it would never get used to it, constantly running circles around the newness of it.
Do you remember what happened to it? Yup. You forgot about it. A day or two later, it didn’t feel new. How does that work? I mean, two days ago you were pretty sure that you were going to need to call the dentist. There had to be something wrong with this weird new filling. But now you’re not even sure what tooth it is. How bizarre is that?
It’s actually not bizarre at all! In fact, it means your nervous system is working just perfectly.
Neural adaptation or sensory adaptation is a change over time in the responsiveness of the sensory system to a constant stimulus. That’s a very fancy way of saying, “you just get used to it.” Our nervous system is constantly taking in all kinds of sensory data. What we hear, what we see, what we smell, taste and feel are all giving constant input to our brain. The thing is, not all of this information is all that important at any given time. So the brain has to be able to filter out the stuff that isn’t important while keeping track of the sensory information that is.
Once the brain and nervous system has figured out which information isn’t important at the moment, or salient, it can filter this information out. That way the brain can focus on more important sensory input.
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