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10.1: Sensation vs. Perception

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    Figure 1. Portrait de Félix Fénéon de Paul Signac - Ciné-club de Caen

    Sensation and perception are two separate processes that are very closely related. Sensation is input about the physical world obtained by our sensory receptors, and perception is the process by which the brain selects, organizes, and interprets these sensations. In other words, senses are the physiological basis of perception. Perception of the same senses may vary from one person to another because each person’s brain interprets stimuli differently based on that individual’s learning, memory, emotions, and expectations.

    Figure 2. If you were standing in the midst of this street scene, you would be absorbing and processing numerous pieces of sensory input. (credit: modification of work by Cory Zanker)

    Imagine standing on a city street corner. You might be struck by movement everywhere as cars and people go about their business, by the sound of a street musician’s melody or a horn honking in the distance, by the smell of exhaust fumes or of food being sold by a nearby vendor, and by the sensation of hard pavement under your feet.

    We rely on our sensory systems to provide important information about our surroundings. We use this information to successfully navigate and interact with our environment so that we can find nourishment, seek shelter, maintain social relationships, and avoid potentially dangerous situations. But while sensory information is critical to our survival, there is so much information available at any given time that we would be overwhelmed if we were forced to attend to all of it. In fact, we are aware of only a fraction of the sensory information taken in by our sensory systems at any given time.

    This section will provide an overview of how sensory information is received and processed by the nervous system and how that affects our conscious experience of the world. We begin by learning the distinction between sensation and perception. Then we consider the physical properties of light and sound stimuli, along with an overview of the basic structure and function of the major sensory systems. The module will close with a discussion of a historically important theory of perception called the Gestalt theory. This theory attempts to explain some underlying principles of perception.

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    Seeing something is not the same thing as making sense of what you see. Why is it that our senses are so easily fooled? In this video, you will come to see how our perceptions are not infallible, and they can be influenced by bias, prejudice, and other factors. Psychologists are interested in how these false perceptions influence our thoughts and behavior.

    This page titled 10.1: Sensation vs. Perception is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mehgan Andrade and Neil Walker.

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