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Basic Definitions of Key Terms from Psychology by Ciccarelli and Meyer


the activation of sensory receptors in various sense organs

just noticeable difference

the smallest difference between two stimuli that is detectable 50 percent of the time

absolute threshold

the smallest amount of energy needed for a person to consciously detect a stimulus 50 percent of the time it is present

rods and cones

specialized sensory receptors found in the eyes


the tendency of the brain to stop attending to constant, unchanging information

sensory adaptation

tendency of sensory receptor cells to become less responsive to a stimulus that is unchanging


constant, movements of the eyes--little vibrations

subliminal stimuli

stimuli below the level of consciousness that may act upon behavior


the method by which the sensations experienced at any given moment are interpreted and organized in some meaningful fashion

size constancy

the tendency to interpret an object as always being the same actual size, regardless of its distance

sensory receptors

specialized forms of neurons that are activated by different stimuli such as light and sound

shape constancy

the tendency to interpret the shape of an object as being constant, even when its shape changes on the retina

brightness constancy

the tendency to perceive the apparent brightness of an object as the same even when the light conditions change


the tendency to perceive objects, or figures, as existing on a background


the tendency to perceive things that look similar to each other as being part of the same group


the tendency to perceive objects that are spacially close to each other as part of the same grouping


the tendency to complete figures that are incomplete


the tendency to perceive things as simply as possible with continuous pattern rather than with a complex, broken-up pattern


the tendency to perceive two things that happen close together in time as being related

depth perception

the ability to perceive the world in three dimensions

monocular cues

cues for perceiving depth based on one eye only

binocular cues

cues for perceiving depth based on both eyes

linear perspective

the tendency for parallel lines to appear to converge on each other

relative size

perception that occurs when objects that a person expects to be of a certain size appear to be small and are, therefore, assumed to be much further away


the assumption that an object that appears to be blocking part of another object is in front of the second object and closer to the viewer

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