The Effects of Instructions on Electrodermal Habituation

William G. Iacono, David T. Lykken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The effects of instructions to ignore or attend to stimuli on electrodermal habituation were examined in 122 males who were divided between two groups (Ignore and Attend). One third of the subjects in each group were exposed to seventeen 70, 90, or 110 dB tones while they listened to a radio play. The Ignore subjects were exhorted to immerse themselves in the story and forget about the tones. The Attend group was instructed to count the tones and to be certain they all sounded the same. Another group (Neutral, N = 20, exposed to 110dB tones) was told only that they would hear some tones; no story was presented. The Ignore groups were less responsive and habituated faster than the Attend groups. When the Neutral subjects were compared to the others at 110dB, they were found to have response characteristics that were similar to those of the Attend group, indicating that the specific instructions to attend to the stimuli did not augment responding and that differences between the Attend and Ignore groups are more likely due to the effort of the latter to ignore the stimuli. These findings show that instructions can have important effects on electrodermal responsivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-80
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1983


  • Bilateral skin conductance activity
  • Defensive response
  • Dishabituation
  • Effects of instructions
  • Habituation
  • Orienting response


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