Wednesday, October 19, 2011


"Habituation refers to a gradual reduction in the strength of a response due to repetitive stimulation. Looking, heart rate, and respiration may all decline, indicating a loss of interest. Once this has occurred, a new stimulus--some kind of change in the environment--causes responsiveness to return to a high level. This recovery is called dishabituation."
     This is a quote from one of Laura Berk's many child development books. Laura is a genius of the child development world, and I used to be her editor. Anyway, I've been thinking about her and habituation, but especially dishabituation.And here's why.
     Yesterday, I saw a woman pushing a dog in a wheelchair. No, it was not like the image below.

I have seen this sort of device before, and I do not know why it is referred to as a chair, as a chair seems to be something in which one sits. Maybe there is a technical name for that gizmo above, and I do not know it. When I googled "dog in wheelchair," however, images like the one above came up.
     No, the dog I saw was actually in the kind of wheelchair that humans use, and it was strapped in, with multiple straps, and these straps were truly needed, as the dog did seem to be in a semi-standing position. It was not a very high-quality chair either, so it could not have been particularly easy to push. The woman who was pushing the chair (and the dog) seemed to herself have trouble walking. She moved with a kind of rocking motion, as if she had some disability in the hip region and perhaps also in her ankles or feet. She had another dog on a leash walking beside her.
     Part of me wanted to greet her in some way as we approached each other--at least smile--to acknowledge the interesting sight. I wasn't sure I would actually want to say anything because, what would I say? "Nice dog"? Or "How did you come up with that?" I didn't want her to think I was making fun of her, because I have to confess that part of me felt it was a tad absurd. But just a tad. There was a large amount of devotion about the image as well.
     I did glance at her face, to see if I might see any receptivity there, in case I might decide to deliver at least a smile or a nod. But no. My impression (which I understand is entirely my own) was that she was self-conscious, fully aware that someone might want to make fun of her, and meant to keep to herself.
     Only a few blocks later, passing an apartment building I have passed likely thousands of times, I noticed for the first time that someone, years and years ago when this building was erected, had put some thought into the brickwork. Always before, it had just looked like a wall of bricks to me. Yesterday, however, I noticed a somewhat elaborate design. Not as elaborate or elegant as this.

Nor as marvelously skewed as this.

But still, each brick had a texture--horizontal ridges. And these ridges had been used in interesting ways--both vertically and horizontally to create a pattern in the wall that varied depending on location: around windows and doors, lower and higher.
     So I'm thinking that the woman pushing the dog in the wheelchair dishabituated my habituation, opening my eyes to a new detail in my world.


Anonymous said...

Commonplace things and places change, but sometimes we see only what is familiar. Kind of like hearing a singer who no longer has a good voice, but our memories allow us to hear no mistakes.

Having read some comments you've made re The NYT, am wondering if you read the letter in Met. Diary about the woman in line at her cleaners while the dog in front of her was having his tux refitted because he had grown since he last wore it to a wedding and is now wearing it again for his owner's nuptials. As for your dog/lady story, sometimes we find that no comment is the best comment. As a pet owner, we do some things to cause non-pet owners to decide we are certainly losing our minds.

Maxx, our handsome orange Tabby brings us great joy and is generally in charge.

Susan Messer said...

I did not see the NY times article about the dog tux and alterations. But thank you for telling me about it, and thank you for reassuring me that no comment is the best comment. I might have said something (or been tempted to) if I'd been involved with that dog tuxedo.

Margaret P. said...

I love this post. And it's especially relevant to me at this point in my life. I'm about to change jobs. And I have had to justify this with elaborate explanations because who would change jobs in the middle of a jobs crisis, especially if one has a well-paying job that one can do with one hand tied behind one's back and a cushy office? And I'm not getting more money, an easier commute, fewer hours, or a better office (in fact I'm moving into a closet compared to what I have now). So why am I doing this? I think it boils down to your post. I need, indeed crave, a "dishabituation" -- I need to see new things, learn new things, do new things, meet new people, and the list goes on. And after a few years, I'll probably do it again.

Susan Messer said...

Well, bravo to you, dear. Making a big change for reasons that can't be easily quantified or explained takes courage. I think it also takes confidence that one will find one's way regardless. That whole idea re: dishabituation, of breathing more fully, having one's pulse going again . . . those are good reasons. Have you given notice yet? Got a start date?

Jim Poznak said...

Margaret, our daughter, Selena, also "dishabituated" into a new job. Brave of her, and you, too.

Personal Injury Accident Attorney said...

What happened to that picture? it seems that they are ruined.

Susan Messer said...

Dear PIAA,

Which picture? You mean the bricks? I kind of like them, though I wonder who could do it and how.