One prominent feature of sensory responses in neocortex is that they rapidly adapt to increases in frequency, a process called "sensory adaptation." Here we show that sensory adaptation mainly occurs during quiescent states such as anesthesia, slow-wave sleep, and awake immobility. In contrast, during behavior-ally activated states, sensory responses are already adapted. For instance, during learning of a behavioral task, when an animal is very alert and expectant, sensory adaptation is mostly absent. After learning occurs, and the task becomes routine, the level of alertness lessens and sensory adaptation becomes robust. The primary sensory thalamocortical pathway of alert and expectant animals is in the adapted state, which may be required for adequate sensory information processing.