Habituation is a form of learning that is quite common among animals. When an animal experiences a situation for the first time, particularly one it considers threatening, it may instinctively respond by running away or by warning other members of its community with alarm calls. Normally, it responds this way each time the situation occurs. However, if through continuous and prolonged exposure the animal learns that the situation is harmless, the behavior gradually diminishes. Ultimately, it will stop responding to the situation altogether. Thus, through habituation a natural or instinctive behavior gradually changes.
<-NARRATOR:-> Now listen to part of a lecture in a biology class.
<-MALE PROFESSOR:-> Prairie dogs' re small animals you're likely to find on wide, relatively flat, grassy areas of land in North America.
They tend to live together in large numbers. Now,
generally these animals don't come into contact with human beings, but every now and then they do. So
let's assume that some prairie dogs happen to live in an area where human beings frequently come and go.
Now, the first time the animals would see a human being,
they'd instinctively react by making a sharp barking sound-
like a dog- ...
and jumping up and down-
essentially warning or alerting other prairie dogs that are nearby of
this potential threat.
Exactly the same way that they'd react if they came upon or were threatened by a snake or a hawk,
an animal that preys on them.
Their instinctive reaction would be one of fear.
They'd keep an eye on the human beings
until these "scary", possibly threatening, individuals are gone. And
they're likely to react this way every time they see a human being.
However, if people pass through the area day after day
without threatening them or trying to harm them,
well, it turns out that the prairie dogs will gradually stop barking and jumping up and down when they see a human being passing through the area.
At some point they'd stop reacting to humans as though they were a threat.
Explain how the example of the prairie dog illustrates the concept of habituation.