Understanding Psychology

Chapter 8: Sensation and Perception

Chapter Overviews

We understand the world by absorbing information through our senses. Chapter 8 examines sensation and perception, both of which are necessary to gather and interpret information through our surroundings.

Section 1 discusses sensations, which occur any time a stimulus activates a receptor. Psychophysicists study how stimuli from the world affect the sensory experiences. They explore how people sense the external world by studying sensory thresholds, Weber's law, sensory adaptation, and the signal-detection theory.

Section 2 describes the sense organs—the eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and skin —as the receptors of sensations, and details the nature and functioning of each of these organs. Although people are thought to have five senses, there are actually more. In addition to vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, the vestibular sense regulates the body's sense of balance, and the kinesthetic sense provides the sense of movement and body position.

The way we interpret sensations and organize them into meaningful experiences is called perception. Section 3 details the principles of perceptual organization—Gestalt, figure-ground, and perceptual inference—and describes how people learn to perceive. The section includes a discussion about depth perception, and it concludes with a look at illusions and extrasensory perception.

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