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Absolute refractory period

The minimum length of time after an action potential during which another action potential cannot begin.

Absolute threshold

The minimum amount of stimulation that an organism can detect for a specific type of sensory input.


Changing existing mental structures to explain new experiences.


An inherited characteristic that increased in a population (through natural selection) because it helped solve a problem of survival or reproduction during the time it emerged.

Additive color mixing

Formation of colors by superimposing lights, putting more light in the mixture than exists in any one light by itself.


A visual image that persists after a stimulus is removed.


Orientations that locate objects of thought on dimensions of judgment.

Auditory localization

Locating the source of a sound in space.

Basilar membrane

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

Binocular depth cues

Clues about distance based on the differing views of the two eyes.

Bottom-up processing

In form perception, progression from individual elements to the whole.


The fluid-filled, coiled tunnel in the inner ear that contains the receptors for hearing.

Color blindness

Deficiency in the ability to distinguish among colors.


People, objects, events, and other standards that are used as a baseline for comparisons in making judgments.

Complementary colors

Pairs of colors that produce gray tones when added together.


Specialized visual receptors that play a key role in daylight vision and color vision.


A cue to depth that involves sensing the eyes converging toward each other as they focus on closer objects.

Dark adaptation

The process in which the eyes become more sensitive to light in low illumination.

Depth perception

Interpretation of visual cues that indicate how near or far away objects are.

Distal stimuli

Stimuli that lie in the distance (that is, in the world outside the body).

Door-in-the-face technique

Making a large request that is likely to be turned down as a way to increase the chances that people will agree to a smaller request later.

Electroencephalograph (EEG)

A device that monitors the electrical activity of the brain over time by means of recording electrodes attached to the surface of the scalp.


The entire family of internally produced chemicals that resemble opiates in structure and effects.


A vision deficiency in which distant objects are seen clearly but close objects appear blurry.

Feature analysis

The process of detecting specific elements in visual input and assembling them into a more complex form.

Feature detectors

Neurons that respond selectively to very specific features of more complex stimuli.

Fechner's law

A psychophysical law stating that larger and larger increases in stimulus intensity are required to produce perceptible increments in the magnitude of sensation.


A tiny spot in the center of the retina that contains only cones; visual acuity is greatest at this spot.

Frequency theory

The theory that perception of pitch corresponds to the rate, or frequency, at which the entire basilar membrane vibrates.

Gate-control theory

The idea that incoming pain sensations must pass through a "gate" in the spinal cord that can be closed, thus blocking pain signals.

Gestalt psychology

A theoretical orientation based on the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Gustatory system

The sensory system for taste.

Impossible figures

Objects that can be represented in two-dimensional pictures but cannot exist in three-dimensional space.

Just noticeable difference (JND)

The smallest difference in the amount of stimulation that a specific sense can detect.

Kinesthetic system

The sensory system that monitors the positions of the various parts of one's body.

Lateral antagonism

A process in the retina that occurs when neural activity in a cell opposes activity in surrounding cells.


The transparent eye structure that focuses the light rays falling on the retina.

Light adaptation

The process whereby the eyes become less sensitive to light in high illumination.

Monocular depth cues

Clues about distance based on the image from either eye alone.

Motion parallax

Cue to depth that involves images of objects at different distances moving across the retina at different rates.


A vision deficiency in which close objects are seen clearly but distant objects appear blurry.

Olfactory system

The sensory system for smell.

Opponent process theory

The theory that color perception depends on receptors that make antagonistic responses to three pairs of colors.

Optic chiasm

The point at which the optic nerves from the inside half of each eye cross over and then project to the opposite half of the brain.

Optic disk

A hole in the retina where the optic nerve fibers exit the eye.

Optical illusion

An apparently inexplicable discrepancy between the appearance of a visual stimulus and its physical reality.

Parallel processing

Simultaneously extracting different kinds of information from the same input.


The selection, organization, and interpretation of sensory input.

Perceptual constancy

A tendency to experience a stable perception in the face of continually changing sensory input.

Perceptual hypothesis

An inference about which distal stimuli could be responsible for the proximal stimuli sensed.

Perceptual set

A readiness to perceive a stimulus in a particular way.

Phi phenomenon

The illusion of movement created by presenting visual stimuli in rapid succession.

Pictorial depth cues

Clues about distance that can be given in a flat picture.

Place theory

The idea that perception of pitch corresponds to the vibration of different portions, or places, along the basilar membrane.

Placebo effects

The fact that subjects' expectations can lead them to experience some change even though they receive an empty, fake, or ineffectual treatment.

Proximal stimuli

The stimulus energies that impinge directly on sensory receptors.


The study of how physical stimuli are translated into psychological experience.


The opening in the center of the iris that helps regulate the amount of light passing into the rear chamber of the eye.

Receptive field of a visual cell

The retinal area that, when stimulated, affects the firing of that cell.


The neural tissue lining the inside back surface of the eye; it absorbs light, processes images, and sends visual information to the brain.

Retinal disparity

A cue to the depth based on the fact that objects within 25 feet project images to slightly different locations on the left and right retinas, so the right and left eyes see slightly different views of the object.

Reversible figure

A drawing that is compatible with two different interpretations that can shift back and forth.


Specialized visual receptors that play a key role in night vision and peripheral vision.


The stimulation of sense organs.

Sensory adaptation

A gradual decline in sensitivity to prolonged stimulation.

Signal-detection theory

A psychophysiological theory proposing that the detection of stimuli involves decision processes as well as sensory processes, which are influenced by a variety of factors besides the physical intensity of a stimulus.

Subjective contours

The perception of contrours where none actually exist.

Subliminal perception

The registration of sensory input without conscious awareness.

Subtractive color mixing

Formation of colors by removing some wavelengths of light, leaving less light than was originally there.

Tactile system

The sensory system for touch.


A dividing point between energy levels that do and do not have a detectable effect.

Top-down processing

In form perception, a progression from the whole to the elements.

Trichromatic theory

The theory of color vision holding that the human eye has three types of receptors with differing sensitivities to different wavelengths.

Vestibular system

The sensory system that responds to gravity and keeps people informed of their body's location in space.

Visual agnosia

An inability to recognize objects.

Volley principle

The theory holding that groups of auditory nerve fibers fire neural impulses in rapid succession, creating volleys of impulses.

Weber's law

The theory stating that the size of a just noticeable difference is a constant proportion of the size of the initial stimulus.

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