Adaptation is a common principle that recurs throughout the nervous system at all stages of processing. This principle manifests in a variety of phenomena, from spike frequency adaptation, to apparent changes in receptive fields with changes in stimulus statistics, to enhanced responses to unexpected stimuli. The ubiquity of adaptation leads naturally to the question: What purpose do these different types of adaptation serve? A diverse set of theories, often highly overlapping, has been proposed to explain the functional role of adaptive phenomena. In this review, we discuss several of these theoretical frameworks, highlighting relationships among them and clarifying distinctions. We summarize observations of the varied manifestations of adaptation, particularly as they relate to these theoretical frameworks, focusing throughout on the visual system and making connections to other sensory systems.
Keywords: efficient coding; inference; neural coding; predictive coding; redundancy reduction; surprise.