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Unit 4 Vocabulary - Sensation and Perception


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


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

bottom-up processing

analysis that beings 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

selective attention

the focusing of conscious awareness on a particular stimulus

inattentional blindness

failing to see visible objects when our attention is directed elsewhere

change blindness

failing to notice changes in the environment


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 amid background stimulation (noise). Assumes there is no single absolute threshold and that detection depends partly on a person's experience, expectations, motivation, and alertness


the activation, often unconsciously, of certain associations, thus predisposing one's perception, memory, or response

difference threshold

the minimum difference between two stimuli required for detection 50 percent of the time. We experience the difference threshold as a just noticeable difference

weber's law

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

sensory adaptation

diminished sensitivity as a consequence of constant stimulation


face blindness


conversion of one form of energy into another. In sensation, the transforming of stimulus energies, such as sights, and smells, into neural impulses our brains can interpret


the distance from the peak of one light or sound wave to the peak of the next. Electromagnetic wavelengths vary from the short blips of cosmic rays to the long pulses of radio transmission


the dimension of color that is determined by the wavelength of light; what we know as the color names blue, green and so forth


the amount of energy in a light or sound wave, which as we perceive as brightness or loudness, as determined by the wave's amplitude


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


a ring of muscle tissue that forms the colored portion of the eye around the pupil and controls the size of the pupil opening


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


the light-sensitive inner surface of the eye, containing the receptor rods and cones plus layers of neurons that begin the processing of visual information


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


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


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

optic nerve

the nerve that carries neural impulses from the eyes 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


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

feature detectors

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

parallel processing

the processing of many aspects of a problem simultaneously; the brains natural mode of information processing for many functions, including vision. Contrasts with the step-by-step (serial) processing of most computers and of conscious problem solving

young-helmholtz trichromatic theory

the theory that the retina contains three different color receptors which, when stimulated in combination, can produce the perception of any color

opponent-process theory

the theory that opposing retinal processes (red-green, yellow-blue, white-black) enable color vision.


the sense or act of hearing


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


a tone's experienced highness or lowness, depends on frequency

middle ear

the chamber between the eardrum and cochlea containing three tiny bones (hammer, anvil, stirrup) that concentrate the vibrations of the eardrum on the cochlea's oval window


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

inner ear

the innermost part of the ear, containing the cochlea, semicircular canals, and vestibular sacs

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 hearing loss

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

sensorineural hearing loss

hearing loss caused by damage to the cochlea's receptor cells or to the auditory nerves; also called nerve deafness

cochlear implant

a device for converting sounds into electrical signals and stimulating the auditory nerve through electrodes threaded into the cochlea


the system for sensing the position and movement of individual body parts

vestibular sense

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

gate-control theory

the theory that the spinal cord contains a neurological "gate" that blocks pain signals or allow them to pass on to the brain. The "gate" is opened by the activity of pain signals traveling up small nerve fibers and is closed by activity in larger fibers by information coming from the brain

sensory interaction

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


an organized whole. Gestalt psychologists emphasized our tendency to integrate pieces of information into meaningful wholes


the organization of the visual field into objects (the figures) that stand out from their surroundings (the ground)


the perceptual tendency to organized stimuli into coherent groups

depth perception

the ability to see objects in three dimensions although the images that strike the retina are two-dimensional; allows us toe judge distance

visual cliff

a laboratory device for testing depth perception in infants and young animals

binocular cues

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

retinal disparity

a binocular cue for perceiving depth: By comparing images from the retinas in the two eyes, the brain computes distance - the greater the disparity (difference) between the two images, the closer the objects

monocular cues

depth cues, such as interposition and linear perspective, available to either eye alone

phi phenomenon

an illusion of movement created when two or more adjacent lights blink on and off in quick succession

perceptual constancy

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

color constancy

perceiving familiar objects as having consistent color, even if changing illumination alters the wavelengths reflected by the object

perceptual adaptation

in vision, the ability to adjust to an artificially displaced or even inverted visual field

perceptual set

a mental predisposition to perceive one thing and not another

extrasensory perception

the controversial claim that perception can occur apart from sensory input; includes telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition

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