22 5.0 Introduction

The ability to detect and interpret the events that are occurring around us allows us to respond to these stimuli appropriately (Gibson & Pick, 2000). In most cases, the system is successful, but it is not perfect. In this chapter, we will discuss the strengths and limitations of these capacities, focusing on both sensation, which is an awareness resulting from the stimulation of a sense organ, and perception, which is the organization and interpretation of sensations by the brain. Sensation and perception work seamlessly together to allow us to experience the world through our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. They also allow us to combine what we are currently learning from the environment with what we already know about it to make judgments and to choose appropriate behaviours.

We will begin the chapter with a discussion of some of the basic properties of our sensory systems. We then focus on the six senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, and monitoring the body’s positions, known as proprioception. We will see that sensation is the process of receiving information from the world by sense organs. Pressure waves entering the ear or light waves entering the eye are examples of sensory information. Each sense accomplishes the basic process of transduction, which is the conversion of stimuli detected by receptor cells to electrical impulses that are then transported to the brain, in different, but related, ways.

After we have reviewed the basic processes of sensation for each system, we will turn to the topic of perception, focusing on how the brain’s processing of sensory experience can not only help us make quick and accurate judgments, but how it can also mislead us into making perceptual and judgmental errors. As you read through the chapter, keep in mind that sensation and perception combine to make sense of the world around us — usually accurately, but not always.


Gibson, E. J., & Pick, A. D. (2000). An ecological approach to perceptual learning and development. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


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