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As a way of teaching adaptation to a psychology class, I, along with my class conducted three experiments. This proved to be a successful method for the teaching of adaptation.
In order to describe the experiments, procedures, and results, it is important to have an understanding of what adaptation is and why it is important.
To begin with, adaptation is a process, rather than a physical part of the body. Adaptation is one of the two main processes that explains the diverse species we see in biology. All adaptations help an organism survive in their ecological niches.1 Adaptation in biology is a trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism that is maintained and evolved by means of natural selection. It is also important to understand that adaptation refers to both the current state of being something adapted and to the dynamic evolutionary process that has led to adaptation. Adaptations contribute to the fitness and survival of individuals.
Sensory adaptation occurs when sensory receptors change their sensitivity to a stimulus. This phenomenon occurs in all senses. The only possible exception is the sense of pain. Human beings get used to things in life, such as smells, sounds, sights, situations, etc. One reason that we get used to things is because of sensory adaptation.2 Simply put, this means the reduced sensitivity to stimulation that results from repeated presentations of a stimulation. A simple example to illustrate this would be if a person needed to use a rental car for a few days. For the first few hours the rental car would seem to have unfamiliar smells, and not be a good fit. After this initial time had passed, the person would not notice any difference in smells of the rental car. This is because of sensory adaptation.
The first experiment consisted of rubbing the index finger gently over a piece of very coarse sandpaper. This was done for a few times to rte the coarseness on a scale of 1, being very soft, to 7, being very coarse. After a minute or two has passed, rub the fingers over the same paper and once again, rte its coarseness. The result of this experiment showed that the person's perception of the coarseness did change. The first time that the person conducting the experiment rub their fingers on the sandpaper, the perception rating was of a 7, very coarse. The second time that the person conducted the experiment in the same way, the result was a rating of 3, much softer than the first time. What was the reason for this? The person adapted to the feeling of the sandpaper. The fingers, and the sandpaper were the same. The person adapted to the feeling of coarseness, and after the second time, there was not the gap between soft and coarse as there was in the first experiment.
The second experiment that was conducted involved preparing one cup with sugar water and a second cup with fresh water. The person who conducted the experiment took a sip of the sugar water, swished it around in their mouth for several seconds and did not swallow. After a brief time, the person disposed of the sugar water. The result was that as time elapsed, the taste of the sugar water became less sweet. The reason for this wans that the senses in the mouth became used to, i.e. adapted, to the sweet taste. The last step of the experiment was to take a sip of the fresh water and then dispose of it. The taste of the fresh water was a surprise to the senses. The reason for this was that the senses adapted to the sweet tasting water. When the fresh water entered the mouth, the senses experienced a sudden, different change.
The third experiment involved using three medium sized bowls. The first bowl was filled with very hot water, not painfully hot, but tap water hot. The second bowl was filled with very cold tap water. The third bowl was filled with a mixture of very hot and very cold water. The bowls were then arranged so that the cold water was in front of the right hand, the hot water was in front of the cold water, and the lukewarm water was in between both bowls. The experiment involved submersing each hand in the bowl of water in front of the hand. The hands remained submersed in the water for about three minutes. Once three minutes had elapsed the hands were taken out of the bowls and quickly placed into the lukewarm water. The result of the experiment was that there was not a highly noticeable difference. The reason for this was that the hands were not as sensitive to the water because they adapted to the water that they were submersed in for three minutes. When the hands were placed in the bowl with the lukewarm water there was a less noticeable difference to the senses.
The sensory systems that were involved in the first experiment were the sense of touch. The sensory system that was involved in the second experiment was taste and the sensory system that was involved in the third experiment was taste. Each of these sensory systems experienced sensory adaptation to the stimulus being presented to the person who conducted the experiment.
Adaptation is important from an evolutionary perspective. The main reason for this is due the the need for humans to be able to adjust to change, both in their senses, environment, and any stimuli that may be encountered. If a person is not able to adapt, he or she will experience difficulty in handling even the smallest change. If a person is not able to adapt, and handle change, this presents difficulty not only in the senses, but in the psychological area. Not being able to adapt makes a person's mental state stressed and nervous. When adaptation takes place, a person is able to evolve both in a physical and in a mental capacity.
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