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Introduction, Neuroscience, Perception, Attention

Action pathway

Neural pathway, extending from the occipital lobe to the parietal lobe, that is associated with neural processing that occurs when people take action. Corresponds to the where pathway

Action potential

Electrical potential that travels down a neuron's axon


A procedure that is guaranteed to solve a problem

Analytic introspection

A procedure used by early psychologists in which trained participants described their experiences and thought processes elicited by stimuli presented under controlled conditions

Artificial intelligence

The ability of a computer to perform tasks usually associated with human intelligence

Audiovisual mirror neuron

Neuron in the monkey premotor cortex that responds when a monkey performs an action and also when it hears the sound associated with this action (for example the action associated with breaking a peanut, and the associated sound)


Part of the neuron that transmits signals from the cell body to the synapse

Behavioral approach

Studying the mind by measuring a person's behavior and explaining this behavior in behavioral terms


The approach to psychology, founded by John B. Watson, which states that observable behavior provides the only valid data for psychology. A consequence of this idea is that consciousness and unobservable mental processes are not considered worthy of study by psychologists

Bottom-up Processing

Processing that starts with information received by the receptors. This type of processing can also be called data-based processing.

Brain ablation

A procedure in which a specific area is removed from an animal's brain. It is usually done to determine the function of this area by assessing the effect on the animal's behavior

Brain imaging

Techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) that result in images of the brain that represent brain activity. In cognitive psychology, activity is measure in response to specific cognitive tasks

Broca's aphasia

A condition associated with damage to corresponding area, in the frontal lobe, characterized by difficulty in using speech to express thoughts, but with a remaining facility for understanding speech

Broca's area

an area in the frontal lobe associated with the production of language

Cell Body

Part of a cell that contains mechanisms that keep the cell alive. In some neurons it and the dendrites associated with it receive information from other neurons

Cerebral cortex

the 3-mm-thick outer layer of the brain that contains the mechanisms responsible for higher mental functions such as perception, language, thinking and problem solving

Choice reaction time

Reacting to one of two or more stimuli; for example, in Donder's experiment participants had to make one response to one stimulus and a different response to another stimulus

Classical Conditioning

A procedure in which pairing a neutral stimulus with a stimulus that elicits a response causes the neutral stimulus to elicit that response


The mental processes involved in perception, attention, memory, language, problem solving, reasoning, and making decisions

Cognitive map

Mental conception of a spatial layout

Cognitive neuroscience

field involved in studying the neural basis of cognition

Cognitive psychology

the branch of psychology concerned with the scientific study of the mental processes involved in perception, attention, memory, language, problem solving, reasoning and decision making. In short, it is concerned with the scientific study of the mind and mental processes

Cognitive revolution

A shift in psychology, beginning in the 1950s, from the behaviorist approach to an approach in which the main thrust was to explain behavior in terms of the mind. One of the outcomes of the was the introduction of the information-processing approach to studying the mind

Componential recovery

The principal associated with recognition-by-components theory that states that if we can recover (see) an object's geons, we can identify the object


Structures that branch out from the cell body to receive electrical signals from other neurons


A situation in cases of brain damage, in which the damage causes a problem in one function while not affecting other functions

Distributed coding

Representation of an object or experience by the pattern of firing of a number of neurons

Double dissociation

A situation in which a single dissociation can by demonstrated in one person, and the opposite type of single dissociation can by demonstrated in another person (i.e., Person 1: function A is present; function B is damaged; Person 2: function A is damaged; function B is present)

Event-related potential (ERP)

An electical potential, recorded with disc electrodes on a person's scalp, that reflects the response of many thousands of neurons near the electrode that fire together. Consists of a number of waves that occur at different delays after a wave occurs in response to a sentence that contains a word that doesn't fit the meaning of the sentence

Extrastriate body area (EBA)

An area in the temporal cortex that is activated by pictures of bodies and parts of bodies, but not by faces or other objects

Law of Familiarity

Law of perceptual organization that states that things are more likely to form groups if the groups appear familiar or meaningful

Feature detectors

Neurons that respond to specific visual features such as orientation, size or the more complex features that make up environmental stimuli

Feedback signal

Neural signal that travels back from higher centers to influence incoming signals

Frontal lobe

The lobe in the front of the brain that serves higher functions such as language, thought memory, and motor functioning

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)

A brain imaging technique that measures how blood flow changes in response to cognitive activity. Unlike positron emission tomography, this technique does not involve the injection of a radioactive tracer

Fusiform face area (FFA)

An area in the temporal lobe that contains many neurons that respond selectively to faces


The basic feature unit of the recognition-by-components approach to object perception. Basic three-dimensional volumes

Gestalt Psychologists

A group of psychologists who proposed principles governing perception, such as laws of organization, and a perceptual approach to problem solving involving restructuring

Law of Good Continuation

Law of perceptual organization stating that points that, when connected, result in straight or smoothly curving lines are seen as belonging together. In addition, lines tend to be seen as following the smoothest path

Grandmother cell

A neuron that responds only to a highly specific stimulus (specific image, concept, reality)


A "rule of thumb" that provides a best-guess solution to a problem

Information-processing approach

the approach to psychology, developed beginning in the 1950s, in which the mind is described as processing information through a sequence of stages

Landmark discrimination problem

Problem in which the task is to remember an object's location and to choose that location after a delay. Associated with research on the where processing stream

Light-from-above heuristic

The assumption that light is coming from above. This heuristic can influence how we perceive three-dimensional objects that are illuminated

Likelihood principle

Part of Helmholtz's theory of unconscious inference that states that we perceive the object that is most likely to have caused the pattern of stimuli we have received

Localization of a function

Location of specific functions in specific areas of the brain. For example, areas have been identified that are specialized to process information involved in the perception of movement, form, speech and different aspects of memory

Logic theorist

Computer program devised by Alan Newell and Herbert Simon that was able to solve logic problems

Memory consolidation

Process by which experiences or information that has entered the memory system becomes strengthened so it is resistant to interference caused by trauma or other events


Small wires that are used to record electrical signals from single neurons


System that creates and controls mental functions such as perception, attention, memory, emotions, language, deciding, thinking and reasoning, and that creates mental representations of the world

Mirror neuron

Neuron in the premotor cortex, originally discovered in the monkey, that responds both when a monkey observes someone else (usually the experimenter) carrying out an action and when the monkey itself carries out the action. There is also evidence for these in humans


In cognitive psychology, a representation of the workings of the mind; often presented as interconnected boxes that each represent the operation of specific mental functions


An area of the brain that is specialized for a specific function. for example, the fusiform face area, extrastriate body area, and parahippocampal place area are these for perceiving faces, bodies and places respectively

Theory of Natural Selection

The idea, originating with Darwin, that genetically based characteristics that enhance an animal's ability to survive, and therefore reproduce, will be passed on to future generations

Nerve impulse

An electrical response that is propagated down the length of an axon (nerve fiber). Also called an action potential

Nerve net

A network of continuously interconnected nerve fivers (as contrasted with neural networks, in which fibers are connected by synapses)

Neural circuit

Group of interconnected neurons that are responsible for neural processing

Neural code

The representation of specific stimuli or experiences by the firing of neurons


Cell that is specialized to receive and transmit information in the nervous system

Neuron Doctrine

The idea that individual cells called neurons transmit signals in the nervous system, and that these cells are not continuous with other cells are proposed by nerve net theory


The study of the behavioral effects of brain damage in humans


Chemical that is released at the synapse in response to incoming action potentials

Object discrimination problem

A problem in which the task is to remember an object based on its shape and choose it when presented with another object after a delay. Associated with research on the what processing stream

Oblique effect

The finding that vertical and horizontal orientations can be perceived more easily than other (slanted) orientations

Occipital lobe

The lobe at the back of the brain that is devoted primarily to analyzing incoming visual information

Operant conditioning

Type of conditioning championed by B. F. Skinner, which focuses on how behavior is strengthened by presentation of positive reinforcers, such as food or social approval, or withdrawal of negative reinforcers, such as shock or social rejection

Parahippocampal place area (PPA)

An area in the temporal lobe that contains neurons that are selectively activated by pictures of indoor and outdoor scenes

Parietal lobe

The lobe at the top of the brain that contains mechanisms responsible for sensations caused by stimulation of the skins, and also some aspects of visual information


Conscious experience that results from stimulation of the senses

Perception pathway

Neural pathway, extending from the occipital lobe to the temporal lobe, that is associated with perceiving or recognizing objects. Corresponds to the what pathway

Perceptual organization

The process of organizing elements of the environment into separate objects

Laws of perceptual organization

Rules proposed by the Gestalt psychologists to explain how small elements of a scene or a display become perceptually grouped to form larger units.

Physical regularities

Regularly occurring physical properties of the environment. For example, there are more vertical and horizontal in the environment than oblique (angled) orientations

Physiological approach

Studying the mind by measuring physiological and behavioral responses, and explaining behavior in physiological terms

Positron emission tomography (PET)

A brain imaging technique involving the injection of a radioactive tracer

Law of Pragnanz (good figure and simplicity)

Law of perceptual organization that states that every stimulus pattern is seen in such a way that the resulting structure is as simple as possible

Primary receiving area

Area in the cortex that is the first to receive inputs from one of the senses. For example, the occipital cortex is this area for vision


Condition caused by damage to the temporal lobe that is characterized by an inability to recognize faces

Reaction time

The time it takes to react to a stimulus. This is usually determined by measuring the time between presentation of a stimulus and the response to the stimulus (ex. pushing a button, saying a word, moving the eyes, and the appearance of a particular brain wave)


Specialized neural structures that respond to environmental stimuli such as light, mechanical stimulation, or chemical stimuli

Recognition-by-components theory (RBC)

A feature-based approach to object perception that proposes that the recognition of objects is based on three-dimensional features called geons

Recording electrode

When used to study neural functioning, a very thin glass or metal probe that can pick up electrical single neurons

Reference electrode

Used in conjunction with a recording electrode to measure the difference in charge between the two. Generally placed where the electrical signal remains constant, so any change in charge between the recording and reference electrodes reflects events happening near the tip of the recording electrode

Regularities in the environment

Characteristics of the environment that occur frequently. For example, blue is associated with open sky, landscapes are often green and smooth, and verticals and horizontals are often associated with buildings


A network of neurons that lines the back of the eye. The transformation of light into electrical signals and the initial processing of visual information accur in the retina

Savings method

Method used to measure retention in Ebbinghaus's memory experiments. He read lists of nonsense syllables and determined how many repetitions it took to repeat the lists with no errors. He then repeated this procedure after various intervals following initial learning and compared the number of repetitions needed to achieve no errors

Semantic regularities

Characteristics associated with the functions carried out in different types of scenes. For example, food preparation, cooking and perhaps eating occur in a kitchen

Law of Similarity

Law of perceptual organization that states that similar things appear to be grouped together

Simple reaction time

Reacting to the presence or absence of a single stimulus (as opposed to having to choose between a number of stimuli before making a response)

Single dissociation

A situation that occurs in cases of brain damage, in which the damage causes a problem in one function while not affecting other functions. Occurs when one function is present and another is absent

Size constancy

The tendency to perceive an object as remaining the same size even if it is viewed from different distances. This leads to the conclusion that perception of an object's size does not depend solely on the size of its image on the receptors

Specificity coding

The representation of a specific stimulus by the firing of neurons that respond only to that stimulus. An example would be the signaling of a person's face by the firing of a neuron that responds only to that person's face

Speech segmentation

The process of perceiving individual words within the continuous flow of the speech signal


An approach to psychology that explained perception as the adding up of small elementary units called sensations

Subtraction technique

The technique used in brain imaging in which baseline activity is subtracted from the activity generated by a specific task. The result is the activity due only to the task that is being studied


Space between the end of an axon and the cell body or dendrite of the next axon

Temporal lobe

The lobe on the side of the brain that contains mechanisms responsible for language, memory, hearing, and vision

Top-down processing

Processing that involves a person's knowledge or expectations. This type of processing has also been called knowledge-based processing

Theory of unconscious inference

Helmholtz's idea that some of our perceptions are the result of unconscious assumptions that we make about the environment

Wernicke's aphasia

A condition, caused by damage to corresponding area, that is characterized by difficulty in understanding language, and fluent, grammatically correct, but incoherent speech

Wernicke's area

Area in the temporal lobe associated with understanding language

What pathway

Neural pathway, extending from the occipital lobe to the parietal lobe, that is associated with neural processing that occurs when people locate objects in space. Roughly corresponds to the action pathway

Where pathway

Neural pathway, extending from the occipital lobe to the parietal lobe, that is associated with neural processing that occurs when people locate objects in space. Roughly corresponds to the action pathway


focusing on specific features, objects, or locations or on certain thoughts or activities

attenuation theory of attention

Anne Treisman's model of selective attention that proposes that selection occurs in two stages. In the first stage, an attenuator analyzes the incoming message and lets through the attended message-and also the unattended message, but at a lower (attenuated) strength


in Treisman's model of selective attention, analyzes the incoming message in terms of physical characteristics, language, and meaning. Attended messages pass through at full strength, and unattended messages pass though with reduced strength


a developmental disorder in which one of the major symptoms is withdrawal of contact from other people. People with this disorder often direct their attention differently from people without this disorder

automatic processing

processing that occurs without the person intending to do it, and that also uses few cognitive resources. Associated with easy or well-practiced tasks

balint's syndrome

a condition caused by brain damage in which a person has difficulty focusing attention on individual objects

bottleneck model

model of attention that proposes that incoming information is restricted at some point in processing, so only a portion of the information gets through to consciousness. Broadbent's model is an example

change blindness

difficulty in detecting changes in similar, but slightly different, scenes that are presented one after another. The changes are often easy to see once attention is directed to them, but are usually undetected in the absence of appropriate attention

cocktail party effect

the phenomenon that occurs when, in the process of focusing attention on one message or conversation, a message from another source enters consciousness. This can occur when a person is focusing on a conversation at a party and suddenly hears his or her name from across the room

cognitive load

The amount of a person's cognitive resources needed to carry out a particular cognitive task

cognitive resources

The idea that a person has a certain cognitive capacity, or resources, that can be used for carrying out various tasks

compatible flanker

A stimulus in the display for a flanker compatibility task that is associated with a response that is teh same as or compatible with the response that the participant is supposed to make to a target stimulus

controlled processing

Processing that involves close attention. This term is especially associated with Schneider and Shiffrin's experiment, which showed that this was needed in the difficult, varied mapping condition of their experiment, even after extensive practice

covert attention

Occurs when attention is shifted without moving the eyes, commonly referred to as seeing something "out of the corner of one's eye"

dichotic listening

the procedure of presenting one message to the left ear and a different message to the right ear

dictionary unit

a component of Treisman's attenuation theory of attention. This processing unit contains stored words and thresholds for activating the words. It helps explain why we can sometimes hear a familiar word, such as our name, in an unattended message

divided attention

The ability to pay attention to, or carry out, two or more different tasks simultaneously

early selection model

model of attention that explains selective attention by early filtering out of the unattended message. In Broadbent's model, the filtering step occurs before the message is analyzed to determine its meaning

endogenous attention

Occurs when a person consciously decides to scan the environment to find a specific stimulus or monitor what is happening. Can also occur for auditory stimuli

exogenous attention

attention that is automatically attracted by a sudden visual or auditory stimulus

eye tracker

a device for measuring where people look (fixate) in a scene and how they move their eyes from one fixation point to another

feature integration theory

an approach to object perception developed by Anne Treisman that proposes that object perception occurs in a sequence of stages in which features are first analyzed and then combined to result in perception of an object


in perception and attention, a pausing of the eyes on places of interest while observing a scene

flanker compatibility task

a procedure in which participants are instructed to respond to a target stimulus that is flanked, or surrounded, by distractor stimuli that they are supposed to ignore. The degree to which the distractor interferes with responding to the target is taken as an indication of whether the distractor stimuli are being processed

focused attention stage

The second stage of Treisman's feature integration theory. According to the theory, attention causes the combination of features into perception of an object

high-load tasks

a task that uses most or all of a person's resources and so leaves little capacity to handle other tasks

illusory conjunctions

a situation, demonstrated in experiments by Anne Treisman, in which features from different objects are inappropriately combined

inattentional blindness

Not noticing something even though it is in clear view, usually caused by failure to pay attention to the object or the place where the object is located

incompatible flanker

a stimulus in the display for a flanker compatibility task that is associated with a response that is different from the response that the participant is supposed to make to a target stimulus

late selection model

a model of selective attention that proposes that selection of stimuli for final processing does not occur until after the information in the message has been analyzed for meaning

location-based attention

models of attention that propose that attention operates on whatever stimuli are at a particular location

low-load tasks

a task that uses few resources, leaving some capacity to handle other tasks

object-based attention

model of attention proposing that the enhancing efforts of attention can be located on a particular object

overt attention

shifting of attention by moving the eyes

preattentive stage

The first stage of Treisman's feature integration theory, in which an object is analyzed into its features


A procedure in which participants are given a cue that will usually help them carry out a subsequent task. This procedure has been used in visual attention experiments in which participants are presented with a cue that tells them where to direct their attention

saccadic eye movements

eye movements from one fixation point to another

same-object advantage

occurs when the enhancing effect of attention spreads throughout an object, so that attention to one place on an object results in a facilitation of processing at other places on the object

scene schema

a person's knowledge about what is likely to be contained in a particular scene. This knowledge can help guide attention to different areas of the scene. For example, knowledge of what is usually in an office may cause a person to look toward the desk to see the computer

selective attention

The ability to focus on one message and ignore all others


The procedure of repeating a message out loud as it is heard. Commonly used in conjunction with studies of selective attention that use the dichotic listening procedure

stimulus salience

Bottom-up factors that determine attention to elements of a scene. Examples are color, contrast and orientation. The meaningfulness of the images, which is a top-down factor, does not contribute to this

stroop effect

An effect studied using a task in which a person is instructed to respond to one aspect of a stimulus, such as the color of ink that a word is printed in, and ignor another aspect, such as what the word spells. Refers to the fact that people find this task difficult when the ink color differs from what the word spells

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