Some new speculative ideas about the "behavioral homeostasis theory" as to how the simple learned behaviors of habituation and sensitization improve organism survival throughout phylogeny

Commun Integr Biol. 2012 May 1;5(3):233-9. doi: 10.4161/cib.19480.


This paper explores further the "behavioral homeostasis theory" (BHT) regarding the evolutionary significance for organism survival of the two simple non-associative rapidly learned behaviors of habituation and sensitization. The BHT postulates that the evolutionary function of habituation and sensitization throughout phylogeny is to rapidly maximize an organism's overall readiness to cope with new stimuli and to minimize unnecessary energy expenditure. These behaviors have survived with remarkable similarity throughout phylogeny from aneural protozoa to humans. The concept of "behavioral homeostasis" emphasizes that the homeostatic process is more than just maintaining internal equilibrium in the face of changing internal and external conditions. It emphasizes the rapid internal and external effector system changes that occur to optimize organism readiness to cope with any new external stimulus situation. Truly life-threatening stimuli elicit instinctive behavior such as fight, flee, or hide. If the stimulus is not life-threatening, the organism rapidly learns to adjust to an appropriate level of overall responsiveness over stimulus repetitions. The rapid asymptotic level approached by those who decrease their overall responsiveness to the second stimulus (habituaters) and those who increase their overall responsiveness to an identical second stimulus (sensitizers) not only optimizes readiness to cope with any new stimulus situation but also reduces unnecessary energy expenditure. This paper is based on a retrospective analysis of data from 4 effector system responses to eight repetitive tone stimuli in adult human males. The effector systems include the galvanic skin response, finger pulse volume, muscle frontalis and heart rate. The new information provides the basis for further exploration of the BHT including new predictions and proposed relatively simple experiments to test them.