An Example of Habituation from The Miracle Worker

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Patty Duke, who portrayed a young Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker in the play and later in the movie, died on March 29, 2016. Her obituary in The Telegraph discussed her less-than-pleasant relationship with her guardians. For example, “For 18 months before the audition for the Broadway production of The Miracle Worker, the Rosses spent some time each day treating their protegée as if she were deaf and blind, banging pots and pans behind her until she no longer reacted and making her do household chores blindfold.”

This is quite an example of habituation. “[S]ome time each day” for a year and a half Duke’s guardians made sudden, loud noises. Sure enough, she eventually would not respond to those sounds.

If you have the time, you can do a quick classroom demonstration. Start the demonstration by asking students to write down something, like the names of five friends. As students look down to write, slam a book on a table. Ask students, “Raise your hand if you jumped.” Briefly tell your students who Helen Keller was and show a short clip from The Miracle Worker. Now ask your students to consider the challenges faced by Patty Duke playing someone who is both deaf and blind. “If you were Patty Duke, what could you do to prepare for this role so that you wouldn’t respond to sudden, loud noises?” After students share their ideas, reveal how Duke’s guardians prepared her.

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.