The subject ofsensation and perception are amongst the oldest and most crucial in every ofpsychology. World are equipped through senses such together sight, hearing and also tastethat assist us to take in the world about us. Amazingly, our senses have actually theability to convert real-world info into electrical information that canbe processed by the brain. The way we interpret this information-- ourperceptions-- is what leader to our experience of the world. In this module,you will learn about the biological processes of sensation and how these have the right to becombined to create perceptions.

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Learning Objectives

Differentiate the processes of sensation and also perception.Explain the simple principles that sensation and perception.Describe the function of every of ours senses.Outline the anatomy of the sense organs and also their projections come the worried system. Apply understanding of sensation and perception come real human being examples.Explain the results of multimodal perception.Introduction

"Once ns was hiking in ~ Cape Lookout State Park in Tillamook, Oregon. After passing through a vibrantly colored, pleasantly scented, warm rainforest, I landed on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I grabbed the cold metal railing close to the edge and also looked the end at the sea. Below me, I can see a pod that sea lions swimming in the deep blue water. All about me I might smell the salt from the sea and also the odor of wet, fallen leaves." 

This summary of a single memory highlights the way a person’s senses space so important to our experience of the world around us.

Our senses integrate to produce our awareness of the world.

Before mentioning each of ours extraordinary senses individually, the is vital to covering some basic concepts that apply to all of them. The is probably best to begin with one an extremely important difference that can frequently be confusing: the difference between sensation and also perception. The physical procedure during which our sensory organs—those affiliated with hearing and taste, for example—respond to external stimuli is dubbed sensation. Emotion happens as soon as you eat noodles or feel the wind on your confront or listen a automobile horn honking in the distance. Throughout sensation, our feeling organs are engaging in transduction, the conversion of one kind of energy into another. Physical power such together light or a sound tide is converted right into a type of power the brain can understand: electrical stimulation. After ~ our mind receives the electrical signals, us make feeling of every this stimulation and begin to evaluate the complicated world about us. This psychological process—making sense of the stimuli—is referred to as perception. It is throughout this procedure that you room able to identify a gas leak in your house or a song that reminds friend of a certain afternoon invested with friends.

Regardless of even if it is we room talking around sight or taste or any of the separation, personal, instance senses, there space a number of basic principles that influence the means our sense organs work. The an initial of these impacts is our capability to detect an exterior stimulus. Each feeling organ—our eye or tongue, because that instance—requires a minimal lot of stimulation in order come detect a stimulus. This absolute threshold describes why friend don’t smell the perfume who is attract in a classroom unless they are rather close to you. Because pure threshold changes throughout the day and based top top what various other stimuli you have recently experienced, researchers specify absolute threshold together the minimum around of stimulation required to recognize a economic stimulation 50% of the time.

The way we measure pure thresholds is by making use of a an approach called signal detection. This process involves presenting stimuli of varying intensities come a research participant in bespeak to recognize the level at which that or she deserve to reliably recognize stimulation in a offered sense. Throughout one kind of hear test, because that example, a person listens to significantly louder tones (starting from silence). This kind of check is referred to as the an approach of limits, and also it is an initiative to recognize the point, or threshold, at which a person starts to hear a economic stimulation (see additional Resources for a video demonstration). In the example of enlarge tones, the an approach of boundaries test is utilizing ascending trials. Some technique of boundaries tests usage descending trials, such as making a light grow dimmer until a person deserve to no longer see it. Effectively indicating the a sound to be heard is called a hit; failing to execute so is dubbed a miss. Additionally, indicating that a sound to be heard as soon as one wasn’t play is dubbed a false alarm, and also correctly identifying as soon as a sound wasn’t played is a correct rejection.

Through these and also other studies, we have been may be to gain an expertise of just exactly how remarkable ours senses are. Because that example, the person eye is qualified of detecting candlelight native 30 miles away in the dark. We are likewise capable of hear the ticking the a watch in a quiet environment from 20 feet away. If friend think that’s amazing, ns encourage you to read much more about the too much sensory ability of nonhuman animals; many animals possess what us would think about super-human abilities.

A comparable principle to the pure threshold discussed above underlies our capacity to finding the difference between two stimuli of different intensities. The differential threshold (or distinction threshold) or just noticeable distinction (JND), because that each sense has actually been learned using similar methods to signal detection. Come illustrate, discover a friend and also a couple of objects of recognized weight (you’ll require objects that sweet 1, 2, 10 and 11 lbs.—or in metric terms: 1, 2, 5 and also 5.5 kg). Have your friend hold the lightest thing (1 lb. Or 1 kg). Then, replace this object with the next heaviest and ask the or she to tell girlfriend which one weighs more. Reliably, your friend will certainly say the 2nd object every single time. It’s exceptionally easy to tell the difference when other weighs double what an additional weighs! However, the is no so easy as soon as the distinction is a smaller portion of the all at once weight. It will be lot harder for her friend come reliably tell the difference between 10 and also 11 lbs. (or 5 versus 5.5 kg) than it is for 1 and also 2 lbs. This is phenomenon is called Weber’s Law, and also it is the idea the bigger stimuli require larger distinctions to it is in noticed. As through the pure threshold, your capability to an alert differences different throughout the day and also based on what other stimuli you have recently competent so the distinction threshold is characterized as the smallest distinction detectable 50% that the time.

Crossing right into the civilization of perception, that is clear that our experience influences how our brain processes things. You have tasted food that you like and food that you don’t like. There space some bands friend enjoy and also others you can’t stand. However, during the time you first eat other or hear a band, you procedure those stimuli utilizing bottom-up processing. This is once we build up come perception indigenous the individual pieces. Sometimes, though, stimuli we’ve proficient in our past will influence how we process new ones. This is called top-down processing. The best means to show these two principles is through our capability to read. Read the complying with quote out loud:

Figure 1. An instance of stimuli processing.

Notice anything odd while friend were analysis the message in the triangle? walk you an alert the 2nd “the”? If not, the likely because you were analysis this from a top-down approach. Having actually a second “the” doesn’t do sense. We understand this. Our brain knows this and also doesn’t expect over there to it is in a 2nd one, so we have actually a propensity to skip right over it. In other words, your past experience has adjusted the means you perceive the writing in the triangle! A start reader—one that is utilizing a bottom-up approach by very closely attending to every piece—would be less likely to do this error.

Finally, it have to be provided that as soon as we experience a sensory stimulus the doesn’t change, we stop paying attention to it. This is why we don’t feel the weight of our clothing, hear the hum of a projector in a great hall, or watch all the small scratches top top the lenses of our glasses. When a stimulus is consistent and unchanging, we experience sensory adaptation. This occurs due to the fact that if a stimulus does no change, our receptors quit responding come it. A an excellent example of this occurs once we leave the radio on in our car after us park the at house for the night. As soon as we hear to the radio ~ above the means home from occupational the volume appears reasonable. However, the following morning when we begin the car, we might be startled by exactly how loud the radio is. Us don’t remember that being the loud critical night. What happened? We adjusted to the constant stimulus (the radio volume) over the food of the vault day and also increased the volume at miscellaneous times. 

currently that we have introduced some basic sensory principles, let united state take ~ above each one of our fascinating senses individually.


How vision works

Vision is a tricky matter. As soon as we check out a pizza, a feather, or a hammer, we room actually seeing light bounce off that object and also into our eye. Irradiate enters the eye through the pupil, a tiny opened behind the cornea. The pupil regulates the lot of light entering the eye by contracting (getting smaller) in shining light and also dilating (getting larger) in dimmer light. Once past the pupil, light passes through the lens, i beg your pardon focuses an image on a thin layer of cell in the ago of the eye, called the retina.

Because we have actually two eyes in different locations, the image focused on every retina is native a slightly different angle (binocular disparity), providing us through our late of 3D space (binocular vision). You can appreciate this by holding a pen in her hand, extending your arm in former of your face, and looking at the pen if closing every eye in turn. Pay fist to the noticeable position of the pen loved one to objects in the background. Depending upon which eye is open, the pen appears to jump ago and forth! This is how video clip game manufacturers develop the perception of 3D without unique glasses; two slightly various images are presented on top of one another.

Figure 2. Chart of the human eye. An alert the Retina, labeling here: this is the place of the Cones and also Rods in the eye.

It is in the retina the light is transduced, or converted into electrical signals, by dedicated cells dubbed photoreceptors. The retina includes two key kinds the photoreceptors: rods and also cones. Rods are mainly responsible because that our ability to see in dim irradiate conditions, together as during the night. Cones, ~ above the various other hand, provide us with the capacity to view color and fine detail when the light is brighter. Rods and also cones differ in your distribution throughout the retina, with the highest possible concentration the cones found in the fovea (the main region of focus), and rods overcoming the perimeter (see number 2). The distinction in circulation can describe why looking straight at a dim star in the sky makes it seem to disappear; over there aren’t enough rods to process the dim light!

Next, the electrical signal is sent out through a class of cells in the retina, ultimately traveling under the optic nerve. After ~ passing with the thalamus, this signal makes it to the main visual cortex, where information around light orientation and movement begin to come with each other (Hubel & Wiesel, 1962). Info is then sent to a variety of different locations of the cortex because that more complicated processing. Few of these cortical areas are relatively specialized—for example, for processing encounters (fusiform confront area) and body parts (extrastriate human body area). Damages to these areas of the cortex deserve to potentially result in a details kind that agnosia, through which a human being loses the capacity to perceive visual stimuli. A great example that this is shown in the creating of famed neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks; he proficient prosopagnosia, the i can not qualify to identify faces. These committed regions because that visual recognition consist of the ventral pathway (also dubbed the “what” pathway). Other areas involved in handling location and also movement consist of the dorsal pathway (also referred to as the “where” pathway). Together, this pathways procedure a big amount of information around visual stimuli (Goodale & Milner, 1992). Phenomena we regularly refer to together optical illusions administer misleading information to these “higher” areas of visual handling (see additional Resources for websites containing exceptional optical illusions).

Dark and light adaptation

Humans have actually the ability to adapt to changes in light conditions. As pointed out before, rods are primarily associated in our ability to check out in dim light. They room the photoreceptors responsible for enabling us to see in a dark room. You might an alert that this night vision capacity takes roughly 10 minutes to turn on, a process called dark adaptation. This is since our rods come to be bleached in typical light conditions and require time come recover. We endure the opposite result when we leave a dark movie theatre and also head out into the afternoon sun. Throughout light adaptation, a large number of rods and cones space bleached in ~ once, resulting in us to it is in blinded because that a few seconds. Irradiate adaptation happens virtually instantly compared with dark adaptation. Interestingly, some world think pirates wore a patch over one eye in order to keep it adapted to the dark when the other was adapted to the light. If you want to rotate on a irradiate without losing your night vision, nothing worry about wearing an eye patch, just use a red light; this wavelength no bleach her rods.

Color vision

Figure 3. Rigid at the center of the Canadian flag because that fifteen seconds. Then, transition your eyes away to a white wall surface or blank piece that paper. You should see an "after image" in a different color scheme.

Our cones permit us to watch details in regular light conditions, and color. We have actually cones that respond preferentially, not exclusively, for red, green and also blue (Svaetichin, 1955). This trichromatic theory is no new; the dates ago to the early 19th century (Young, 1802; Von Helmholtz, 1867). This theory, however, walk not explain the odd result that occurs when we look at a white wall after staring in ~ a snapshot for roughly 30 seconds. Try this: stare at the photo of the flag in number 3 for 30 seconds and then automatically look at a sheet of white file or a wall. According to the trichromatic theory of color vision, you have to see white once you execute that. Is the what girlfriend experienced? as you deserve to see, the trichromatic theory doesn’t explain the afterimage you just witnessed. This is whereby the opponent-process theory comes in (Hering, 1920). This theory says that ours cones send information to retinal ganglion cells the respond to pairs of color (red-green, blue-yellow, black-white). These specialized cells take information from the cones and also compute the difference in between the 2 colors—a process that describes why we cannot see reddish-green or bluish-yellow, as well as why we watch afterimages. Shade deficient vision can result from worries with the cones or retinal ganglion cells involved in shade vision.

Hearing (Audition)

some of the most renowned celebrities and also top earners in the civilization are musicians. Our worship of musicians might seem silly when you consider that all they space doing is vibrating the air a certain way to create sound waves, the physics stimulus because that audition.

civilization are capable of gaining a big amount of info from the basic qualities that sound waves. The amplitude (or intensity) that a sound tide codes for the loudness that a stimulus; higher amplitude sound waves result in larger sounds. The pitch of a stimulus is coded in the frequency of a sound wave; greater frequency sounds are higher pitched. We can likewise gauge the quality, or timbre, the a sound through the complexity of the sound wave. This permits us come tell the difference between bright and dull sounds as well as natural and also synthesized instruments (Välimäki & Takala, 1996).

Figure 4. Diagram of the person ear. Notice the Cochlea labeled here: that is the place of the hear Hair cells that are tonotopically organized.

In bespeak for united state to feeling sound waves from our setting they have to reach our inner ear. Lucky for us, we have advanced tools that allow those waves to be funneled and amplified during this journey. Initially, sound waves are funneled by your pinna (the external component of your ear the you have the right to actually see) into your listening canal (the hole you pole Q-tips into regardless of the box advising versus it). During their journey, sound waves at some point reach a thin, extended membrane referred to as the tympanic membrane (eardrum), i beg your pardon vibrates against the 3 smallest skeletal in the body—the malleus (hammer), the incus (anvil), and the stapes (stirrup)—collectively called the ossicles. Both the tympanic membrane and also the ossicles amplify the sound waves prior to they go into the fluid-filled cochlea, a snail-shell-like bone structure containing listening hair cell arranged on the basilar membrane (see number 4) follow to the frequency castle respond come (called tonotopic organization). Depending upon age, people can usually detect sounds in between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. It is within the cochlea that sound waves are converted into an electric message.

Because we have an ear on each side of ours head, us are capable of localizing sound in 3D an are pretty fine (in the same way that having two eyes produces 3D vision). Have actually you ever before dropped miscellaneous on the floor without seeing whereby it went? go you notification that you to be somewhat qualified of locating this object based upon the sound it made when it fight the ground? We deserve to reliably locate something based upon which ear receive the sound first. What about the height of a sound? If both ears obtain a sound at the same time, exactly how are we capable of localizing sound vertically? research study in cats (Populin & Yin, 1998) and also humans (Middlebrooks & Green, 1991) has pointed to differences in the top quality of sound waves depending on vertical positioning.

After gift processed by auditory hair cells, electrical signals are sent through the cochlear nerve (a division of the vestibulocochlear nerve) to the thalamus, and also then the main auditory cortex the the temporal lobe. Interestingly, the tonotopic company of the cochlea is kept in this area the the cortex (Merzenich, Knight, & Roth, 1975; Romani, Williamson, & Kaufman, 1982). However, the function of the major auditory cortex in processing the wide variety of features of sound is still being explored (Walker, Bizley, & Schnupp, 2011).

Balance and the vestibular system

The inside ear isn’t only affiliated in hearing; it’s likewise associated v our capability to balance and also detect whereby we room in space. The vestibular device is consisted of of 3 semicircular canals—fluid-filled bone structures containing cells the respond to transforms in the head’s orientation in space. Information from the vestibular mechanism is sent through the vestibular nerve (the other division of the vestibulocochlear nerve) come muscles connected in the movement of our eyes, neck, and also other parts of our body. This information allows us to preserve our gaze on an object while we space in motion. Disturbances in the vestibular system can an outcome in concerns with balance, including vertigo.


Who doesn’t love the soft of one old t-shirt or the smoothness of a clean shave? who actually enjoys having sand in their swimsuit? ours skin, the body’s largest organ, gives us through all species of information, such together whether other is smooth or bumpy, hot or cold, or also if the painful. Somatosensation—which includes our ability to sense touch, temperature and pain—transduces physics stimuli, such as fuzzy velvet or scalding water, into electrical potentials that deserve to be processed by the brain.

Tactile sensation

Tactile stimuli—those that are linked with texture—are transduced by special receptors in the skin referred to as mechanoreceptors. Just like photoreceptors in the eye and auditory hair cells in the ear, these allow for the counter of one kind of energy into a type the brain can understand.

Figure 5. A illustration of the somatosensory cortex in the brain and the locations in the human being body the correspond to it - castle are attracted in proportion to the most sensitive or the most innervated components of the body.

After tactile stimuli are converted through mechanoreceptors, information is sent through the thalamus to the primary somatosensory cortex for further processing. This an ar of the cortex is arranged in a somatotopic map where various regions space sized based upon the sensitivity of certain parts top top the opposite next of the body (Penfield & Rasmussen, 1950). Put simply, various locations of the skin, such as lips and also fingertips, are an ext sensitive 보다 others, such together shoulders or ankles. This sensitivity have the right to be stood for with the distorted proportions that the person body shown in number 5.


Most people, if asked, would certainly love to eliminate pain (nociception), because the emotion is very unpleasant and also doesn’t appear to have apparent value. Yet the late of pain is ours body’s means of sending out us a signal that something is wrong and also needs our attention. There is no pain, exactly how would we know when we room accidentally poignant a warm stove, or the we should rest a strained arm after a tough workout?

Phantom limbs

Records of human being experiencing phantom limbs after amputations have been roughly for centuries (Mitchell, 1871). As the surname suggests, people with a phantom limb have the sensations such together itching seemingly comes from their absent limb. A phantom body can likewise involve phantom limb pain, sometimes defined as the muscles of the lacking limb uncomfortably clenching. When the mechanisms underlying these phenomena are not completely understood, over there is evidence to assistance that the damaged nerves indigenous the amputation site are still sending information to the mind (Weinstein, 1998) and that the brain is reaction to this info (Ramachandran & Rogers-Ramachandran, 2000). There is an exciting treatment for the alleviation of phantom limb pain that works by tricking the brain, using a distinct mirror box to produce a visual depiction of the absent limb. The an approach allows the patient to manipulate this representation right into a an ext comfortable position (Ramachandran & Rogers-Ramachandran, 1996).

Smell and also Taste: The chemistry Senses

The two many underappreciated senses deserve to be lumped into the vast category of chemistry senses. Both olfaction (smell) and gustation (taste) require the transduction of chemical stimuli into electric potentials. I say these senses space underappreciated due to the fact that most world would give up either among these if castle were required to offer up a sense. When this might not shock a lot of readers, take into consideration how much money human being spend on the perfume industry annually ($29 billion united state Dollars). Numerous of us pay a lot much more for a favorite brand the food because we like the taste. Clearly, we humans care about our chemistry senses.

Olfaction (smell)

Unlike any kind of of the other senses discussed so far, the receptors associated in our perception that both smell and also taste bind directly with the stimuli lock transduce. Odorants in our environment, really often mixtures of them, bind through olfactory receptors uncovered in the olfactory epithelium. The binding the odorants to receptors is assumed to be similar to how a lock and key operates, with different odorants binding to different committed receptors based on their shape. However, the shape theory that olfaction no universally accepted and alternative theories exist, including one that argues that the vibrations of odorant molecules correspond come their subjective smells (Turin, 1996). Regardless of how odorants bind with receptors, the an outcome is a pattern of neural activity. It is thought that our memories the these fads of activity underlie our subjective suffer of smell (Shepherd, 2005). Interestingly, due to the fact that olfactory receptors send projections come the mind through the cribriform plate of the skull, head trauma has actually the potential to cause anosmia, because of the severing of this connections. If you are in a line of work-related where you constantly endure head trauma (e.g. Experienced boxer) and you build anosmia, nothing worry—your feeling of smell will probably come earlier (Sumner, 1964).

Gustation (taste)

Ghost Pepper, likewise known together Bhut Jolokia is among the sexy peppers in the world, it’s 10 time hotter than a habanero, and also 400 times hotter than tabasco sauce. What execute you think would happen to her taste receptor cell if you take it a bite out of this tiny guy?

Taste works in a comparable fashion to smell, just with receptors discovered in the taste buds of the tongue, dubbed taste receptor cells. Come clarify a typical misconception, taste buds are not the bump on your tongue (papillae), yet are situated in little divots approximately these bumps. This receptors likewise respond to chemicals from the external environment, except these chemicals, referred to as tastants, are contained in the foods items we eat. The binding of these chemicals v taste receptor cells outcomes in our perception that the five straightforward tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory)—although some scientists argue that there are much more (Stewart et al., 2010). Researchers used to think this tastes created the basis for a map-like company of the tongue; over there was even a clever rationale for the concept, around how the earlier of the tongue sensed bitterness so us would know to spit the end poisons, and the prior of the tongue sensed sweet so we might identify high-energy foods. However, us now understand that all areas of the tongue with taste receptor cell are qualified of responding to every taste (Chandrashekar, Hoon, Ryba, & Zuker, 2006).

During the procedure of eating we are not restricted to our sense of taste alone. If we space chewing, food odorants are forced ago up to areas that save olfactory receptors. This combination of taste and smell gives us the tardy of flavor. If you have actually doubts around the interaction between these 2 senses, ns encourage you come think ago to think about how the seasonings of her favorite foods items are impacted when you have a cold; whatever is nice bland and boring, right?

Putting it every Together: Multimodal Perception

Though we have actually spent the bulk of this module extending the senses individually, ours real-world suffer is most frequently multimodal, including combinations of our senses right into one perceptual experience. This should be clear after reading the description of walking through the forest at the beginning of the module; it to be the combination of senses that allowed for the experience. It shouldn’t shock girlfriend to find out the at some allude information from every of our senses i do not care integrated. Details from one sense has the potential come influence just how we perceive details from another, a procedure called multimodal perception.

Interestingly, we actually respond more strongly to multimodal stimuli compared to the amount of each solitary modality together, an effect referred to as the superadditive impact of multisensory integration. This can explain how you’re tho able to know what friends are saying to you in ~ a loud concert, as lengthy as you room able to get visual cues native watching them speak. If girlfriend were having actually a quiet conversation in ~ a café, you likely wouldn’t need these added cues. In fact, the principle of inverse performance states that you are less likely to benefit from extr cues from various other modalities if the early stage unimodal economic stimulation is strong enough (Stein & Meredith, 1993).

Because we room able to procedure multimodal sensory stimuli, and the outcomes of those procedures are qualitatively different from those that unimodal stimuli, that a fair assumption that the mind is doing something qualitatively various when they’re being processed. There has actually been a cultivation body the evidence due to the fact that the mid-90’s top top the neural correlates the multimodal perception. For example, neurons that respond to both visual and auditory stimuli have been established in the superior temporal sulcus (Calvert, Hansen, Iversen, & Brammer, 2001). Additionally, multimodal “what” and also “where” pathways have actually been proposed for auditory and tactile stimuli (Renier et al., 2009). Us aren’t restricted to reading about these regions of the brain and what lock do; we can experience them with a couple of interesting examples (see additional Resources because that the “McGurk Effect,” the “Double flash Illusion,” and also the “Rubber Hand Illusion”).

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Our exceptional sensory abilities enable us to endure the many enjoyable and most miserable experiences, and everything in between. Ours eyes, ears, nose, tongue and also skin carry out an interface for the brain to communicate with the world approximately us. While there is simplicity in spanning each sensory modality independently, we room organisms that have advanced the capacity to process multiple modalities together a combined experience.

Outside Resources

Audio: listening Demonstrations from Richard Warren’s lab in ~ the college of Wisconsin, Milwaukee hear Demonstrations. CD published by the Acoustical society of America (ASA). You deserve to listen to the demonstrations here Ackerman, D. (1990). A natural background of the senses. Vintage. Sacks, O. (1998). The man who mistook his mam for a hat: and also other clinical tales. Simon and also Schuster. obtained knowledge and also its impact on our three-dimensional translate of the human being - 3D Street Art