September 4, 2015

Adaptation level theory

Adaptation theory

Also called AL theory or the theory of adaptation level. The Adaptation level theory is a theory positing that an individual’s reference point for subjective judgments regarding particular classes of stimuli is determined by the individual’s prior exposure to such stimuli as well as recollections of past judgments of similar stimuli.

Put forth in pioneering research by Helson (1947), adaptation-level theory posits that one’s judgment or evaluation of an outcome is a function of all the previously experienced outcomes. In particular, the theory expresses the relationship mathematically by proposing that one’s adaptation level, or reference point for subjective judgments, is the logarithm of the mean of relevant stimuli, where individuals weight such stimuli based on their recency and salience among other criteria. In this sense, adaptation-level theory is a psychological theory of relativity based on the general principle of perceptual contrast where any subjective judgment is influenced by the prevailing norm or adaptation level. The theory also suggests that individuals continually adapt to label the existing level of any stimulus as the norm.

While adaptation-level theory has been formulated in precise mathematical terms, it also provides a basis for non-mathematical application. For example, the theory can be used to explain why an individual may see a new car model of a particular size and consider it to be ‘big,’ as it would be judged in relation to the individual’s perception of the prevailing norm for new car model size, yet, given a case where most new car models become bigger over time, the individual’s reference point for car size judgments will shift to that of a bigger size. Marketers should therefore seek to understand how a consumer’s judgment is influenced by his or her prior exposures to related stimuli in order to explain and predict better such judgments. Such knowledge can therefore provide the marketer with insights into appropriate marketing  communications or persuasive messages that may be aimed at altering or influencing such consumer judgments.


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  1. arj ramzan says:

    i want d detail n clear concept on this topic n the above given passage me is enough 4 my satisfaction on adaption level theory but the mathematical equation is missing here….!!

  2. Glad the article was of use to you. I personally do not know of any such mathematical equations. However if i do come across such an equation, i will surely paste it here. Keep visiting.

  3. this article was helpful for me. i was so confused about this theory but finally i found the right theory but i have one question . is helson a psychologist or mathematician?????

  4. Helson basic equation for AL has the following form:
    A= K( Sp bar on s Cr Rr)
    Where A is the predicted value of AL, K an empirical constant, S bar the geometric mean of the series stimuli, C another stimulus, R refer to residual stimuli


  1. […] Adaptation Level (singkatan AL, tingkatan adaptasi); 1. Satu titik subjektif dari persamaan dalam mana perangsang menjadi netral atau tidak berpengaruh lagi. Perangsang di atas Adaptation Level itu berkualitas komplementer dibanding  dengan perangsang di bawah Adaptation Level. 2. Satu keadaan homeostatis bercampur dengan netralitas emosional. […]

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