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Non-preferred sounds clunky to me and words like alternative, I feel, don't convey the sense of "the set of things I really don't like".

Edit: Perhaps the context will help. In this version, I've used tchrist's suggestion of disliked:

Most parts of the brain have preferred patterns of input that those parts link to characteristic patterns of output. Many disorders arise when a brain region receives patterns of input it dislikes or cannot link the preferred input to its characteristic output.

I want to avoid too much anthropomorphism because this is for a scientific paper. The field already uses the word "preferred". In the section intended for a general audience I wanted to avoid using technical words but not accidentally convey something.

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I think in this field, unpreferred is what you probably should stick with. –  JLG Oct 9 '12 at 13:42
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5 Answers 5

Both unfavored and disfavored exist, and may serve. But perhaps the somewhat stronger disliked or disapproved is what you mean here. If that’s the route you plan to take, there are plenty of even stronger terms for things you don’t care for: hated, deplored, loathed, abhored.

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Most parts of the brain have preferred patterns of input that those parts link to characteristic patterns of output. Many disorders arise when a brain region receives patterns of input it dislikes or cannot link the preferred input to its characteristic output.

Perhaps the bolded line can be reworded to one of:

  • Many disorders arise when a brain region receives patterns of atypical input ...

  • Many disorders arise when a brain region receives patterns of unsuitable input ...

  • Many disorders arise when a brain region receives patterns of incompatible input ...

  • Many disorders arise when a brain region receives patterns of inconsistent input ...

  • Many disorders arise when a brain region receives patterns of unacceptable input ...

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I absolutely love "unsuitable"! I think "atypical" might be too nebulous, in this context, because the preferred patterns for one area can be "atypical" in the sense of very specific. –  mac389 Oct 9 '12 at 16:03
    
@mac389 I see. In that case, ill-suited might be another potential candidate ... –  coleopterist Oct 9 '12 at 16:07
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In terms of describing neurological function to a lay audience, I would suggest that abnormal expresses your concept simply.

Most parts of the brain have preferred patterns of input that those parts link to characteristic patterns of output. Many disorders arise when a brain region receives patterns of abnormal input or cannot link the preferred input to its characteristic output.

You might also prefer aberrant, which expresses something that is different and perhaps unexpected.

You noted that I wrote "patterns of abnormal input" rather than "abnormal input patterns." It depends on whether you want to say that the pattern is abnormal or the input is abnormal. I hadn't thought about it much, but if you mean that the firing pattern is pathological, then I would write "abnormal patterns of input." If you mean that the afferent process is abnormal, then "patterns of abnormal input" would make more sense. However, when writing for a lay audience, I don't think most readers would understand the distinction without further elaboration.

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I'm curious on your opinion on the difference between "patterns of abnormal input" and "abnormal patterns of input". Instinctively I write the latter, but you wrote the former. Am I splitting hairs? –  mac389 Oct 9 '12 at 16:01
    
@mac389: The first modifies input, while the second modifies patterns. In your context they more or less mean the same thing. I prefer Kit's version in your case. –  Noah Oct 9 '12 at 16:08
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A couple more alternatives to pick over. I believe that many disorders arise when a brain region..:

  • ..receives patterns of unfamiliar input..
  • ..receives patterns of unexpected input..
  • ..receives confusing patterns of input..

(or my favourite)

  • ..receives anomalous input..
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You could try distaste or detest.

distaste: mild dislike or aversion

detest: dislike intensely.

definition source: NOAD

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