Sense perception

Class time: 2 x 90 minutes

Goals and objectives:

Students are able to:

  • understand how sense perception helps in communication with an outer world
  • understand that sense perception might be researched not just by position of biology and psychology but philosophy and anthropology too, so as from the position of language
  • understand that strict reliance to power of sense perception might lead to biases sometimes ( influenced by the social, biological, economic and cultural context )

For an opening : 15 minutes

A short discussion with students on the following questions:

How do we perceive our environment? How do we receive information from our surrounding? What are the main tools which we use while receiving different kind of information from an environment?  Do we trust the most to what we see, hear, smell, taste or touch? Have we ever considered the fact that there are more then five senses?   Do we make a difference between perception and sense perception? Do we rely more on information gotten by one sensory input or on a multi – sensory perception?  What is proprioception? How important is our prior knowledge of the world when receive and classify new sense perception information?

Students might also engage in the following activity (they should say the difference the difference between following expressions):

  • a man of sense, be in one`s senses, common sense, frighten out of senses, have horse senses, have more sense, in a sense, talk sense?

Development: 60 minutes

  • an explanation of difference between perception and sensation 

Sensation is a  sensory input received through one of our senses. It is, among other things,  a taste of sweet, bitter, hot or cold on my tongue. It is a touch on my skin. Or noise that I hear in my ear.

I hear that my dog is barking.  Neal (from Treehouse Masters) stands on one of branches of tree with beautiful green leafs. I see that scene on of my TV screen. But how can I know that I feel the difference between tastes on my tongue?  Or that Neal stands on a tree with green leafs and not on the purple one? Which tools do I use in order to recognize the difference?  Sensations that I had received my brain transformed into perception.

We use to say that we have five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting.  But out body possesses an ability to register its motions and position. That we call proprioception. We also possess an ability to sense when someone else stands close to use (close to what we call “my body`s personal space”).

Sensation is passively receiving information through sensory inputs, and perception is interpreting this information.

Sense perception might be described as interpreting sensory information through the process of transduction.  Transduction is a process of transforming sensory inputs in electrical impulses understandable for the brain.  The sense organs convert sensory inputs into neural messages.

Perception, on the other hand, might be described as giving meaning to sensation. But, very often, we use a noun “perception” when we want to describe our belief or our opinion about something.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, perception is, also,  ” someone`s ability to notice and understand things that are not obvious to other people”.


We posses four basic tastes: salty, sour, bitter and sweet. But different people have different tastes based on: genetics, culture, learning, food attractiveness. It is possible to guess that people from Bosnia and Herzegovina would not share the same taste for meals as the Yupik people from the south of Alaska. Or with people from Island.

In this part of a class students can read an excerpt in a research of Clyde Kluckholn`s book, Mirror for Man: The Relation of the Anthropology to Modern Life in this part of a class.  They can work in groups as there are too many in a class.

I once knew a trader’s wife in Arizona who took a somewhat devilish interest in producing a cultural reaction. Guests who came her way were often served delicious sandwiches filled with a meat that seemed to be neither chicken nor tuna fish yet was reminiscent of both. To queries she gave no reply until each had eaten his or her fill. She then explained that what they had eaten was not chicken, not tuna fish, but the rich, white flesh of freshly killed rattlesnakes. The response was instantaneous, often violent vomiting. A biological process is caught in a cultural web.

After reading the text they have to answer to following questions:

  • To what extent cultural patterns may influence sense perception?
  • To what extent biological conditions play a role  when receiving some sensory inputs?

Back to the roots.  Here comes a short explanation about sources of knowledge in John Locke`s theory of knowledge.  In contrast to his philosophy, a short explanation about Descartes cogito is added.

Our knowledge in all these inquiries reaches very little farther than our experience.(Locke, Essay concerning human understanding, 1689.)

Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters. (Locke,Essay concerning human understanding, 1689.)

Cogito ergo sum. ( Descartes, Discourse on the Method, 1637.)

Again to the modern era.

According to scientists at three departments and various research at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, multi-sensory perception is not always necessary for registering many things. We can  and must often perceive things with only one sense: for example, visually. But this is possible because our brain takes experiences and prior knowledge of the intrinsic nature of the world into account.


After watching a video students can take a role in a discussion about material seen.


Building a bridge to other sciences. Let` jump into psychology.

According to signal detection theory sensation depends on the characteristics of the sensory inputs,  the background stimulation, and about a person who detects sensation in his/ her environment.  It will also depend on the condition of your “detector”—your brain—and, perhaps, whether it has been aroused by a strong cup of coffee or lack of sleep. Signal detection theory also helps us understand why some people, sometimes, may lack in noticing  of a certain sound and not the next or vice versa.

The Gate-Control Theory – Pain perception

The two psychologists, Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall, developed a theory that explains why pain can sometimes be blocked or surpressed in our mental state. According to this theory, the the experience of pain depends on a complex interplay of central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. Both of these  process pain signals in their own way. When an injury happens, pain messages originate in nerves associated with the damaged tissue and flow along the peripheral nerves to the  spinal cord and on up to the brain.

Perceptual Ambiguity and Distortion

According to Cohen& Girgus (1973), a primary goal of perception is to get an accurate “picture” of the world. Long time ago, the survival of human kind depended a lot of on accurately perceiving the environment. Things has changed in modern time. At least hope so. Of course that is easier to survive in an modern ambient but it is still so mandatory to use sense perception when we cross a street.  But sometimes it happens that we misinterpret an image, like in the case of sensory and perceptual illusions.

Closure: 15 minutes

  • Evaluation of the lecture
  • Time for discussion on said
  • An announcement of continuation of lecture on sense perception



Clyde Kluckholn, Mirror for Man: The Relation of the Anthropology to Modern Life,  Whittlesey House Inc., New York, 1949

Sensation and Perception

Click to access Psy201sensationperceptionA.pdf

Prof. Dr. Bülthoff, Heinriech,  Perception – Our gateway to the world

Cambridge Dictionaries Online, perception, definition

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority,

Content for Year 10 – Learning area content descriptions

Click to access Content_for_Year_10_-_Learning_area_content_descriptions.pdf

What is the difference between sensation and perception?


Click to access Psy201sensationperceptionA.pdf


Sensation and Perception

Kassin, S. (1998). Psychology, second edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Enchanted Kingdom, official trailer, You Tube

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