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The process by which stimulation of a sensory receptor produces neural impulses that the brain interprets.


the process of organizing and interpreting sensory information


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.

sensory adaptation

reduced responsiveness caused by prolonged stimulation

absolute threshold

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

difference threshold

the smallest change in stimulation that a person can detect

Weber's Law

the principle that, to be perceived as different, two stimuli must differ by a constant minimum percentage (rather than a constant amount)

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.


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


light sensitive cells (rods and cones) that convert light to electrochemical impulses


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


area consisting of a small depression in the retina containing cones and where vision is most acute

optic nerve

the nerve that carries neural impulses from the eye to the brain

blind spot

The point at which the optic nerve leaves the eye, creating a "blind" spot because no receptor cells are located there.


intensity of reflected light that reaches our eyes


Also called hue, it is not a property of things in the external world. It is a psychological sensation created by the brain from information obtained by the eyes from light waves of visible light.

visible spectrum

light energy that can be seen and can be broken into the colors of the rainbow

trichromatic theory

idea that color vision is based on our sensitivity to three different colors

opponent process theory

the theory that opposing retinal processes (red-green, yellow-blue, white-black) enable color vision. For example, some cells are stimulated by green and inhibited by red; others are stimulated by red and inhibited by green


images that occur when a visual sensation persists for a brief time even after the original stimulus is removed

color blindness

a variety of disorders marked by inability to distinguish some or all colors

electromagnetic spectrum

arrangement of electromagnetic radiation--including radio waves, visible light from the Sun, gamma rays, X rays, ultraviolet waves, infrared waves, and microwaves--according to their wavelengths


the number of complete wavelengths that pass a point in a given time


the height of a wave's crest

Tympanic Membrane

The eardrum. A structure that separates the outer ear from the middle ear and vibrates in response to sound waves.


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

basilar membrane

A structure that runs the length of the cochlea in the inner ear and holds the auditory receptors, called hair cells.


a tone's highness or lowness; depends on frequency


the human perception of how much energy a sound wave carries


the distinguishing quality of a sound

conduction deafness

hearing loss caused by damage to the mechanical system that conducts sound waves to the cochlea

nerve deafness

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

vestibular sense

the sense of body movement and position, including the sense of balance

kinesthetic sense

the sense of body position and movement of body parts relative to each other


sense of smell


chemical signals released by organisms when they are ready to breed


sense of taste

skin senses

Sensory systems for processing touch, warmth, cold, texture, and pain

Gate control theory

theory that spinal cord contains neurological gate that blocks pains signals or allows them to pass. gate is opened by activity of pain going up small nerve fibers & gate is closed by act of large fibers or by info coming from brain

placebo effect

Experimental Results caused by expectations alone; any effect on behavior caused by the administration of an inert substance or condition, which is assumed to be an active agent.


An idea important to a system of beliefs

feature detectors

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

binding problem

question of how the visual, auditory, and other areas of the brain influence one another to produce a combined perception of a single object

bottom up processing

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

top down processing

information processing guided by higher-level mental processes, as when we construct perceptions drawing on our experience and expectations

perceptual constancy

perceiving objects as unchanging (having consistent lightness, color, shape, and size) even as illumination and retinal images change


a false idea; something that one seems to see or to be aware of that really does not exist

ambiguous figures

Images that are capable of more than one interpretation

gestalt psychology

a psychological approach that emphasizes that we often perceive the whole rather than the sum of the parts


the part of a pattern that commands attention


the part of a pattern that does not command attention - A.K.A. the background


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

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