repetition suppression, fMRI, habituation, anterior insula, cybersecurity


Computer users are often the last line of defense in computer security. However, with repeated exposures to system messages and computer security warnings, neural and behavioral responses show evidence of habituation. Habituation has been demonstrated at a neural level as repetition suppression where responses are attenuated with subsequent repetitions. In the brain, repetition suppression to visual stimuli has been demonstrated in multiple cortical areas, including the occipital lobe and medial temporal lobe. Prior research into the repetition suppression effect has generally focused on a single repetition and has not examined the pattern of signal suppression with repeated exposures. We used complex, everyday stimuli, in the form of images of computer programs or security warning messages, to examine the repetition suppression effect across repeated exposures. The use of computer warnings as stimuli also allowed us to examine the activation of learned fearful stimuli. We observed widespread linear decreases in activation with repeated exposures, suggesting that repetition suppression continues after the first repetition. Further, we found greater activation for warning messages compared to neutral images in the anterior insula, pre�supplemental motor area, and inferior frontal gyrus, suggesting differential processing of security warning messages. However, the repetition suppression effect was similar in these regions for both warning messages and neutral images. Additionally, we observed an increase of activation in the default mode network with repeated exposures, suggestive of increased mind wandering with continuing habituation.

Original Publication Citation

Kirwan, C. B., Bjornn, D. K., Anderson, B. B., Vance, A., Eargle, D., Jenkings, J. L. (2020). Repetition of Computer Security Warnings Results in Differential Repetition Suppression Effects as Revealed with Functional MRI. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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Permanent URL


Front. Psychol.




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor

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Psychology Commons