Posted: September 3rd, 2013





A research was carried out to investigate the differences between habituation and sensitization patterns when factors including weight and age are considered.  The research shows the relationship that exists between habituation and sensitization.  The study was undertaken to investigate these patterns in lean and overweight children.  Habituation to food differs with the different weight sizes of children (Epstein et al, 2008).  Overweight children tend to habituate slower than their lean counterparts do.  They also tend to consume more energy than the lean children do.  The research is done with similar conditions of food, temperature and time (Epstein et al, 2008).

Purpose of Paper

The purpose of this paper is to prove that weight determines the rate of habituation in children.  Overweight children have a slower habituation process, which subsequently affects their sensitization patterns.  This paper also clarifies the relationship between the reintroduction of an eliciting stimulus and the ability of an individual to habituate to it.

Review of Literature

Fifty-five children between the ages of eight and twelve were used as participants in the research.  Thirty-three of them were male while thirty-two were female.  The eligibility criteria included an exclusion from participation in a similar study, being without a physical disability, and being free from chronic diseases related to obesity.  Those who met the criteria then received a checkup in a three-hour physical examination at the Behavioral Medicine Laboratory.  The laboratory was constructed to aid in the research.  It was specifically for the eating experiments and was fitted with cameras and air circulatory systems.  At the laboratory, written consents were signed and the children were interviewed to determine whether the children had adhered to the same-day food recall as per the original instructions.  The children completed demographic forms regarding their food preferences and eating habits, which in turn aided in the assessment of their dietary awareness.

The first element to be measured was that of instrumental response which was done with the aid of instrumental scheduling.  The twenty-eight minute task was executed in two different phases.  These phases were those of habituation and recovery.  Participants were permitted to interact freely between the computer station and the activity room when they became content with the food supplied to them including slices of pizza, macaroni and cheese.  They then received instructions on motivated responding which included mouse button presses that were geared at earning food.  In the habituation phase, the participants earned points based on their ability to habituate to macaroni and cheese pizza.  This was carried out for twenty-four minutes.  In the latter phase, the recovery of the participants was tested with a chocolate bar.  The purpose of this stage was to capture which response was dependent upon a specific stimulus. The foods used had varying amounts of protein, carbohydrate and fats.  The chocolate had the highest energy density while the macaroni and cheese had the least.  At the end, the task was able to measure the number of mouse button presses made in response to the food stimuli.

Food hedonics and hunger were assessed by liker-type scales.  The children and parents were interviewed regarding same-day food recalls.  A demographics questionnaire documented the social status of the participants.  Anthropometrics of the participants were also recorded and the information gathered used to classify the children as either lean or overweight.  The dietary awareness of the children was measured using the Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire.  Data collected was then compared and analyzed.

Mixed effects Regression Models were used for the analysis of motivated responding.  They evaluated repeated measures that contributed to the responding patterns of the children.  All the models had descriptive factors, such as age and gender that influenced the responding process.  Sensitization was then analyzed by checking the participants’ responses to the process.  Four patterns that were determined by a percentage of increase in relation to time were developed to help in defining sensitization.  There were no major differences recorded in the social status of the participants. The statuses were similar when comparing the overweight and lean children.  It was discovered that there was a correlation between the weight and rate of response.  The lean children were able to habituate by the final time block but the overweight children were not able to complete the task in the allotted time. It was therefore difficult to determine the time taken to habituate among the overweight children as they consumed more energy.  The lean children showed a variation in the response time. The variation was brought about by the various increases and decreases in response.  The increase was what was termed as sensitization and this demonstrated that rate of habituation in the overweight child was slower.  The frequencies of sensitization affected the patterns of habituation.  The result was a moderated habituation pattern that translates to motivation to eat.  The introduction of new foods was seen to complicate the habituation process.  It became hard for the children to habituate over food after attaining sensitization.  This was because they acquired new morale for consumption of the food.


The rates and patterns of habituation and sensitization affect one another.  The research proved that the frequency of sensitization slowed down the rate of habituation. Overweight individuals are motivated to consume food.  They subsequently need more food to satisfy them.  This explains why they tend to have slower habituation rates (Epstein et al, 2008).  Slower habituation rates may also contribute to obesity (Epstein et al, 2008).  This is because of the reduction in the individuals’ ability to recognize the stimulus.  In this case, the stimulus is food.  This will encourage huge consumptions of food that may eventually result in obesity.














Epstein, et al. (2008). Learning and motivation; sensitization and habituation of motivated behavior in overweight and non-overweight children. In Retrieved from





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