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Sensation and Perception


The Senses

Summary The Senses

Sensation is the process by which physical energy from objects in the world or in the body stimulates the sense organs. The brain interprets and organizes this sensory information in a process called perception. Psychophysics is the study of how the physical properties of stimuli relate to people’s experience of stimuli. Research in psychophysics has revealed much information about the acuity of the senses.

Measuring the Senses

Psychologists assess the acuity of the senses in three ways:

  1. Measuring the absolute threshold
  2. Measuring the difference threshold
  3. Applying signal detection theory

The absolute threshold is the minimum amount of stimulation required for a person to detect the stimulus 50 percent of the time. The difference threshold is the smallest difference in stimulation that can be detected 50 percent of the time. The difference threshold is sometimes called the just noticeable difference (jnd), and it depends on the strength of the stimulus.

Example: If someone were comparing two weak stimuli, such as two very slightly sweet liquids, he’d be able to detect quite a small difference in the amount of sweetness. However, if he were comparing two intense stimuli, such as two extremely sweet liquids, he could detect only a much bigger difference in the amount of sweetness.

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