Sensation and Perception for AP Psychology
Practice questions for this study guide can be found at:
Sensory sensitivity can be measured by the absolute threshold, the weakest level of a stimulus that can be correctly detected at least half the time. Measured in studies by Galanter about 50 years ago, our absolute threshold for sight/vision is a candle flame seen at 30 miles on a dark, clear night; for hearing/audition, the tick of a watch under quiet conditions at 20 feet; for taste/gustation, 1 teaspoon of sugar in 2 gallons of water; for smell/olfaction, 1 drop of perfume diffused in a three-room apartment; for touch, the wing of a bee falling on your cheek from a distance of 1 centimeter. Have you noticed that dental or medical procedures feel more painful when you feel tired? It's not your imagination! According to signal detection theory, there is no actual absolute threshold because the threshold changes with a variety of factors, including fatigue, attention, expectations, motivation, and emotional distress. It also varies from one person to another. In a signal-detection experiment, a person needs to decide whether a signal is present or not. If the signal is present and the person thinks it is present, it is a hit. If the signal is present and the person thinks it is absent, it is a miss. If the signal is absent and the person thinks it is present, it is a false alarm. If the signal is absent and the person thinks it is absent, it is a correct rejection. Clearly, you want an air controller in front of a radar screen with the ability to score both hits and correct rejections.
Subliminal stimulation is the receipt of messages that are below one's absolute threshold for conscious awareness. Subliminal messages can have a momentary, subtle effect on thinking. Such stimuli can evoke a feeling, though not a conscious awareness of the stimulus. When you are just barely aware of a change in stimulus, such as an increase in volume of a CD or brightness on your computer screen, the difference threshold—the minimum difference between any two stimuli that a person can detect 50% of the time—has been reached. In order to survive, organisms must have difference thresholds low enough to detect minute changes in important stimuli. You experience the difference threshold as what Ernst Weber called the just noticeable difference (jnd). If you add one BB to a container with 10 BBs in it, you're more likely to notice a difference than if you add one BB to a container holding 100 BBs. According to Weber's law, which was quantified by Gustav Fechner, difference thresholds increase in proportion to the size of the stimulus. When stimulation is unchanging, you become less sensitive to the stimulus. This sensory adaptation permits you to focus your attention on informative changes in your environment without being distracted by irrelevant data such as odors or background noises.
Transmission of Sensory Information
Sensory information of stimuli comes from millions of sensory receptors in your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, muscles, joints, and tendons. Different receptors detect different types of physical energy, such as light waves, mechanical energy, chemical energy, and heat energy. Receptors transduce energy from one form into another. In sensation, transduction refers to the transformation of stimulus energy to the electrochemical energy of neural impulses. Except for impulses for olfaction/smell transmitted directly to the olfactory bulbs on the underside of the cortex, impulses from sense organs are transmitted to the thalamus before the cortex. The cerebral cortex puts all the sensory information together and acts on it. Different areas of the cortex translate neural impulses into different psychological experiences, such as odor or touch. Visual information is first processed in the occipital lobes in the back of the cortex, hearing in the temporal lobes, body senses in the parietal lobes, taste at the junction of temporal and parietal lobes, and smell in the lower portion of the frontal lobes. These primary sensory centers then project the results of their activity to other areas in the cortex, the association areas, where more abstract information processing takes place and where you connect new information with old information stored in your memory. Perception is the process of selecting, organizing, and interpreting sensations, enabling you to recognize meaningful objects and events.
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