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the process by which our sensory receptors and nervous system receive and represent stimulus energies from our environment

sense receptors

Specialized cells that convert physical energy in the environment or body to electrical energy that can be transmitted as nerve impulses to the brain

sense organs

Organs that receive stimuli.

bottom up processing

analysis that begins with the sensory receptors and works up to the brain's integration of sensory information


the process of organizing and interpreting sensory information, enabling us to recognize meaningful objects and events

top-down processing

assessing sensory information based on previous experience or expectations.


conversion of one form of energy into another. In sensation, the transforming of stimulus energies, such as sights, sounds, and smells, into neural impulses our brains can interpret. (Myers Psychology 8e p. 204)

doctrine of specific nerve energies

the principle that different sensory modalities exist because signals received by the sense organs stimulate different nerve pathways leading to different areas of the brain.


The study of relationships between the physical characteristics of stimuli, such as their intensity, and our psychological experience of them.

absolute threshold

the minimum stimulation needed to detect a particular stimulus 50 percent of the time

signal detection theory

a theory predicting how and when we detect the presence of a faint stimulus ("signal") amid background stimulation ("noise"). Assumes there is no single absolute threshold and detection depends partly on a person's experience, expectations, motivation, and level of fatigue. (Myers Psychology 8e p. 199)

just noticeable difference

The smallest difference that can be detected between two physical stimuli.

Weber's Law

principle that the just noticeable diffference of a stimulus is a constant proportion despite variations

sensory adaptation

diminished sensitivity as a consequence of constant stimulation

Sensory deprivation

the absence of normal levels of sensory stimulation.

sensory overload

Experiencing too much stimuli at once.

selective attention

the focusing of conscious awareness on a particular stimulus, as in the cocktail party effect


intensity of reflected light that reaches our eyes


chromatic purity: freedom from dilution with white and hence vividness of hue


transparent anterior portion of the outer covering of the eye


the transparent structure behind the pupil that changes shape to help focus images on the retina


the process by which the eye's lens changes shape to focus near or far objects on the retina


muscular diaphragm that controls the size of the pupil


the adjustable opening in the center of the eye through which light enters


the light-sensitive membrane covering the back wall of the eyeball


the central focal point in the retina, around which the eye's cones cluster


retinal receptors that detect black, white, and gray; necessary for peripheral and twilight vision, when cones don't respond


retinal receptor cells that are concentrated near the center of the retina and that function in daylight or in well-lit conditions. The cones detect fine detail and give rise to color sensations.

dark adaptation

the process by which visual receptors become as sharp as they can in darkness. both rods and cones adjust but ultimately rods are more effective in darkness

bipolar cells

eye neurons that receive information from the retinal cells and distribute information to the ganglion cells

ganglion cells

the specialized cells which lie behind the bipolar cells whose axons form the optic nerve which takes the information to the brain

optic nerve

nerve responsible for carrying impulses for the sense of sight from the retina to the brain

blind spot

the point where the optic nerve enters the retina

feature detectors

nerve cells in the brain that respond to specific features of the stimulus, such as shape, angle, or movement


sharpness of vision


a condition in which nearby objects are seen more clearly than distant objects because distant objects focus in front of the retina


a condition in which faraway objects are seen more clearly than near objects because the image of near objects is focused behind the retina

parallel processing

the processing of several aspects of a problem simultaneously; the brain's natural mode of information processing for many functions, including vision

trichromatic theory

Visual theory, stated by Young and Helmholtz that all colors can be made by mixing the three basic colors: red, green, and blue; a.k.a the Young-Helmholtz theory.

opponent process

the representation of colours by the rate of firing of two types of neurons; red/green and yellow/blue

negative after image

the image seen after a portion of the retina is exposed to an intense visual stimulus

color blindness

inability to perceive certain colors, such as red and green


the ability to hear


the human perception of how much energy a sound wave carries


the property of sound that varies with variation in the frequency of vibration


(music) the distinctive property of a complex sound (a voice or noise or musical sound)


tightly stretched membrane located at the end of the ear canal that vibrates when struck by sound waves


a coiled, bony, fluid-filled tube in the inner ear through which sound waves trigger nerve impulses

basilar membrane

The cellular membrane in which the hair cells are embedded. It moves in respose to pressure waves in the cochlea, initiating a chain of events that results in a nerve impulse traveling to the brain

auditory nerve

a composite sensory nerve supplying the hair cells of the vestibular organ and the hair cells of the cochlea

place theory

in hearing, the theory that links the pitch we hear with the place where the cochlea's membrane is stimulated

frequency theory

in hearing, the theory that the rate of nerve impulses traveling up the auditory nerve matches the frequency of a tone, thus enabling us to sense its pitch

conduction deafness

hearing loss due to problems with the bones of the middle ear

nerve deafness

hearing loss caused by damage to the cochlea's receptor cells or to the auditory nerve


sense of taste

taste buds

sense receptors in the tongue that respond to sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami, and perhaps fat

sensory interaction

the principle that one sense may influence another, as when the smell of food influences its taste


the sense of smell


airborne hormones released by one individual and taken in by another, usually of the same species, and affects new host

gate-control theory

The idea that there is a "valve" in the spinal cord which when open allows pain messages to get to the brain and when closed prohibits these messages from reaching the brain.


sense of balance and of one's physical position

vestibular sense

a sensory system located in structures of the inner ear that registers the orientation of the head

semicircular canals

the structures in the ear that are responsible for your sense of balance


an organized whole - psychologists emphasized our tendency to integrate pieces of info into meaningful wholes


a Gestalt principle of organization holding that (other things being equal) objects or events that are near to one another (in space or time) are perceived as belonging together as a unit


a Gestalt principle of organization holding that there is an innate tendency to perceive incomplete objects as complete and to close or fill gaps and to perceive asymmetric stimuli as symmetric


gestalt law; sensations that appear to create a continuous form are perceived as belonging together (a whole)


gestalt law; elements that are connected by other elements tend to grouped together

binocular cues

depth cues, such as retinal disparity and convergence, that depend on the use of two eyes.

monocular cues

distance cues, such as linear perspective and overlap, available to either eye alone

retinal disparity

a binocular cue for perceiving depth; by comparing images from the two eyeballs, the brain computes distance - the greater the disparity (difference) between the two images, the close the object


monocular visual cue in which two objects are in the same line of vision and one patially conceals the other, indicating that the first object concealed is further away

linear perspective

a monocular cue for perceiving depth; the more parallel lines converge, the greater their perceived distance

relative size

a depth cue whereby larger objects are perceived as closer than smaller ones

relative clarity(texture gradient)

a monocular cue for perceiving depth; hazy objects are farther away than sharp, clear objects

relative height

a monocular cue for perceiving depth; objects higher in our field of vision are perceived as farther away

relative motion

The perception of an observer that, as the observer moves forward, the objects that appear to him/her to move backwards faster are closer than apparently slower-moving objects; a monocular cue.

perceptual constancy

even though different images are being considered the same even though size on retina was changed


apparent communication from one mind to another without using sensory perceptions


apparent power to perceive things that are not present to the senses


knowledge of an event before it occurs


the study of paranormal phenomena, including ESP and psychokinesis


The ability to move objects with one's mind.

perceptual sets

Demonstrates our readiness to percieve in a particular manner; Based on experience and expectation; Audio perceptual sets (Aerosmith song: "Dude looks like a lady," people hear "Do the lucky lady")

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