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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 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 contruct perceptions drawing on our experience and expectations


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 1 single absolute threshold and that detection dependes partly on a person's experience, expectations, motivation, and level of fatigue.


below one's absolute threshold for conscious awareness


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

difference threshold

the minimum difference between 2 stimuli required for detecting 50 percent of the time. We experience this as a just noticeable difference. (also called a just noticeable difference or jnd)

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).

sensory adaptation

diminished sensitivity as a consequence of constant stimulation


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.


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


the dimension of color that is determined by a wavelegth 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 we perceive as brightness of 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 adn controls the size of the pupil opening


the transparent structure behing the pupil that changes shape to focus near or far objects on the retina


the process by which the eye's lens changes shape to focus near or far objects 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 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 whihc far-away objects are seen more clearly than near objects because the inamge of near objects is focused behind the retina


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. They detect fine detail and give rise to color sensations

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


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

feature detectors

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

parallel processing

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

Young-Helmholtz trichromatic(three-color) theory

the theory that the retina contains three different color receptors-one most sensitive to red, one to green, one to blue-which when stimulated in combination can produce the perception fo any color

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 greena dn inhibited by red; others are stimulated by red and inhibited by green

color constancy

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


the sense of act of hearing


the number of complete wavelengths that pass a point in a given time (for example, per second)


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, and stirrup) that concentrate the vibrations of the eardrum on the cochlea's oval window


a coiled, bony, fluid-filled tube in the inner are 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 of 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

gate-control theory

the theory that the spinal cord contains a neurological "gate" that blocks pain signals or allows 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 or by information coming from the brain

sensory interaction

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


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

vestibular sense

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

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