Chapter 6


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Question Answer
Sensation Sensation is the process by which our sensory receptors and nervous system receive and represent stimulus energies from our environment.
Perception Perception is the process of organizing and interpreting this information, enabling recognition of meaningful events. Sensation and perception are actually parts of one continuous process.
Bottom-up Processing Bottom-up processing is sensory analysis that begins at the entry level, with information flowing from the sensory receptors to the brain.
Top-down Processing Top-down processing is information processing guided by high-level mental processes, as when we construct perceptions by filtering information through our experience and expectations.
What three steps are basic to all our sensory systems? Our senses (1) receive sensory stimulation (often using specialized receptor cells); (2) transform that stimulation into neural impulses; and (3) deliver the neural information to the brain.
Transduction Transduction is the process of converting one form of energy into another. Researchers in psychophysics study the relationships between stimuli's physical characteristics and our psychological experience of them.
What are the absolute and difference thresholds, and do stimuli below the absolute threshold have any influence on us? Our absolute threshold for any stimulus is the minimum stimulation necessary for us to be consciously aware of it 50 percent of the time. Signal detection theory predicts how and when we will detect a faint stimulus amid background noise. Individual absolute thresholds vary, depending on the strength of the signal and also on our experience, expectations, motivation, and alertness. Our difference threshold (also called just noticeable difference, or jnd) is the difference we can discern between two stimuli 50 percent of the time. Weber's law states that two stimuli must differ by a constant proportion (not a constant amount) to be perceived as different. Priming shows that we can process some information from stimuli below our absolute threshold for conscious awareness. But the effect is too fleeting to enable people to exploit us with subliminal messages.
What is the function of sensory adaptation? Sensory adaptation (our diminished sensitivity to constant or routine odors, sounds, and touches) focuses our attention on informative changes in our environment.
How do our expectations, contexts, emotions, and motivation influence our perceptions? Perceptual set is a mental predisposition that functions as a lens through which we perceive the world. Our learned concepts (schemas) prime us to organize and interpret ambiguous stimuli in certain ways. Our physical and emotional context, as well as our motivation, can create expectations and color our interpretation of events and behaviors.
What is the energy that we see as visible light? After entering the eye and being focused by a lens, light energy particles (from a thin slice of the broad spectrum of electromagnetic energy) strike the eye's inner surface, the retina.
How does the eye transform light energy into neural messages? The retina's light-sensitive rods and color-sensitive cones convert the light energy into neural impulses. The hue we perceive in a light depends on its wavelength, and its brightness depends on its intensity
How do the eye and the brain process visual information? After processing by bipolar and ganglion cells in the eyes' retina, neural impulses travel through the optic nerve, to the thalamus, and on to the visual cortex. In the visual cortex, feature detectors respond to specific features of the visual stimulus. Supercell clusters in other critical areas respond to more complex patterns. Through parallel processing, the brain handles many aspects of vision (color, movement, form, and depth) simultaneously. Other neural teams integrate the results, comparing them with stored information and enabling perceptions.
What theories help us understand color vision? The Young-Helmholtz trichromatic (three-color) theory proposed that the retina contains three types of color receptors. Contemporary research has found three types of cones, each most sensitive to the wavelengths of one of the three primary colors of light (red, green, or blue). Hering's opponent-process theory proposed three additional color processes (red-versus-green, blue-versus-yellow, black-versus-white). Contemporary research has confirmed that, en route to the brain, neurons in the retina and the thalamus code the color-related information from the cones into pairs of opponent colors. These two theories, and the research supporting them, show that color processing occurs in two stages.
How did the Gestalt psychologists understand perceptual organization? Gestalt psychologists searched for rules by which the brain organizes fragments of sensory data into gestalts (from the German word for "whole"), or meaningful forms. In pointing out that the whole may exceed the sum of its parts, they noted that we filter sensory information and construct our perceptions.
How do figure-ground and grouping principles contribute to our perceptions? To recognize an object, we must first perceive it (see it as a figure) as distinct from its surroundings (the ground). We bring order and form to stimuli by organizing them into meaningful groups, following such rules as proximity, continuity, and closure.
How do we use binocular and monocular cues to perceive the world in three dimensions and perceive motion? Depth perception is our ability to see objects in three dimensions and judge distance. The visual cliff and other research demonstrate that many species perceive the world in three dimensions at, or very soon after, birth. Binocular cues, such as retinal disparity, are depth cues that rely on information from both eyes. Monocular cues (such as relative size, interposition, relative height, relative motion, linear perspective, and light and shadow) let us judge depth using information transmitted by only one eye. As objects move, we assume that shrinking objects are retreating and enlarging objects are approaching. A quick succession of images on the retina can create an illusion of movement, as in stroboscopic movement or the phi phenomenon.
How do perceptual constancies help us organize our sensations into meaningful perceptions? Perceptual constancy enables us to perceive objects as stable despite the changing image they cast on our retinas. Color constancy is our ability to perceive consistent color in objects, even though the lighting and wavelengths shift. Brightness (or lightness) constancy is our ability to perceive an object as having a constant lightness even when its illumination—the light cast upon it—changes. Our brain constructs our experience of an object's color or brightness through comparisons with other surrounding objects. Shape constancy is our ability to perceive familiar objects (such as an opening door) as unchanging in shape. Size constancy is perceiving objects as unchanging in size despite their changing retinal images. Knowing an object's size gives us clues to its distance; knowing its distance gives clues about its size, but we sometimes misread monocular distance cues and reach the wrong conclusions, as in the Moon illusion.
What does research on restored vision, sensory restriction, and perceptual adaptation reveal about the effects of experience on perception? Experience guides our perceptual interpretations. People blind from birth who gained sight after surgery lack the experience to visually recognize shapes, forms, and complete faces. Sensory restriction research indicates that there is a critical period for some aspects of sensory and perceptual development. Without early stimulation, the brain's neural organization does not develop normally. People given glasses that shift the world slightly to the left or right, or even upside-down, experience perceptual adaptation. They are initially disoriented, but they manage to adapt to their new context.
What are the characteristics of air pressure waves that we hear as sound? Sound waves are bands of compressed and expanded air. Our ears detect these changes in air pressure and transform them into neural impulses, which the brain decodes as sound. Sound waves vary in amplitude, which we perceive as differing loudness, and in frequency, which we experience as differing pitch.
How does the ear transform sound energy into neural messages? The outer ear is the visible portion of the ear. The middle ear is the chamber between the eardrum and cochlea. The inner ear consists of the cochlea, semicircular canals, and vestibular sacs. Through a mechanical chain of events, sound waves traveling through the auditory canal cause tiny vibrations in the eardrum. The bones of the middle ear amplify the vibrations and relay them to the fluid-filled cochlea. Rippling of the basilar membrane, caused by pressure changes in the cochlear fluid, causes movement of the tiny hair cells, triggering neural messages to be sent (via the thalamus) to the auditory cortex in the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss (or nerve deafness) results from damage to the cochlea's hair cells or their associated nerves. Conduction hearing loss results from damage to the mechanical system that transmits sound waves to the cochlea. Cochlear implants can restore hearing for some people, but their use is controversial.
What theories help us understand pitch perception? Place theory explains how we hear high-pitched sounds, and frequency theory explains how we hear low-pitched sounds. (A combination of the two theories explains how we hear pitches in the middle range.) Place theory proposes that our brain interprets a particular pitch by decoding the place where a sound wave stimulates the cochlea's basilar membrane. Frequency theory proposes that the brain deciphers the frequency of the neural impulses traveling up the auditory nerve to the brain.
How do we locate sounds? Sound waves strike one ear sooner and more intensely than the other. The brain analyzes the minute differences in the sounds received by the two ears and computes the sound's source.
How do we sense touch? Our sense of touch is actually several senses—pressure, warmth, cold, and pain—that combine to produce other sensations, such as "hot."
How can we best understand and control pain? Pain reflects bottom-up sensations (such as input from nociceptors, the sensory receptors that detect hurtful temperatures, pressure, or chemicals) and top-down processes (such as experience, attention, and culture). One theory of pain is that a "gate" in the spinal cord either opens to permit pain signals traveling up small nerve fibers to reach the brain, or closes to prevent their passage. The biopsychosocial perspective views our perception of pain as the sum of biological, psychological, and social-cultural influences. Pain treatments often combine physical and psychological elements, including placebos and distractions.
How do we experience taste and smell, and how do they interact? Taste and smell are chemical senses. Taste is a composite of five basic sensations—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami—and of the aromas that interact with information from the taste receptor cells of the taste buds. There are no basic sensations for smell. We have some 5 million olfactory receptor cells, with about 350 different receptor proteins. Odor molecules trigger combinations of receptors, in patterns that the olfactory cortex interprets. The receptor cells send messages to the brain's olfactory bulb, then to the temporal lobe, and to parts of the limbic system. The influence of smell on our sense of taste is an example of sensory interaction. Embodied cognition is the influence of bodily sensations, gestures, and other states on cognitive preferences and judgments.
How do we sense our body's position and movement? Through kinesthesis, we sense the position and movement of our body parts. We monitor our body's position and movement, and maintain our balance with our vestibular sense.
What are the claims of ESP? Parapsychology is the study of paranormal phenomena, including extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis. The three most testable forms of ESP are telepathy (mind-to-mind communication), clairvoyance (perceiving remote events), and precognition (perceiving future events).
What have most research psychologists concluded after putting these claims to the test? Skeptics argue that (1) to believe in ESP, you must believe the brain is capable of perceiving without sensory input; (2) Researchers have been unable to replicate ESP phenomena under controlled conditions.
Memory The ability to store and retrieve information over time
Encoding The process of transforming what we perceive, think, feel into an enduring memory
Retrieval The process of bringing to mind information that has been previously encoded and stored
Visual Imagery Encoding The process of storing new information by converting it into mental pictures. When converting information into a mental picture, you relate incoming information to knowledge already in memory. Items are given an additional mental placeholder when encoding verbal information into a mental picture
Sensory memory A type of of storage that holds sensory information for a few seconds or less
Iconic Memory A fast- decaying store of visual information
Echoic Memory A fast-decaying store of auditory information
Anterograde Amnesia The inability to transfer new information from the short-term store into the the long-term store
Retrograde Amnesia The inability to retrieve information that was acquired before a particular date, usually the date of an injury or surgery
Hippocampus This index region of the brain is critical when a new memory is formed; but becomes less important over time. Another possibility is that this index region remains involved over long periods of time for highly detailed personal recollections
Long-term potentiation (LTP) A process whereby communication across the synapse between neurons strengthens the connection, making further communication easier
Memory consolidation The process by which memories become stable in the brain
Retrieval cue External information that is associated with stored information and helps bring it to mind
Encoding specifity principle A retrieval cue can serve as an effective reminder when it helps re-create the specific way in which information was initially coded
Transfer - appropriate processing The idea that memory is likely to transfer from one situation to another when the encoding and retrieval contexts of the situations match
State-dependent retrieval The tendency for information to be better recalled when the person is in the same state during encoding and retrieval
Semantic Encoding The process of relating new information in a meaningful way to knowledge already stored in memory - professional gambler Bubbles related a string of digits to his latest winnings at the racetrack or a long night at the poker table.
Organizational Encoding The process of categorizing information according to the relationships among a series of items. Recall can be improved by sorting items into a conceptual hierarchy, all the way from general categories to intermediate categories and down to the very specific.
Short-term memory A type of storage that holds nonsensory information for more than a few seconds but less than a minute
Rehearsal The process of keeping information in short-term memory by repeating it mentally. This allows you to reenter information into short-term memory for 15 to 20 seconds.
Chunking Combines small pieces of information into larger clusters or chunks that are more easily held into short-term memory.Since short-term memory is limited to seven meaningful items, numbers and letters at one time
Childhood amnesia/infantile amnesia Few or no memories from the from the first few years of life
Transience Forgetting what occurs with the passage of time
Episodic memory The collection of past personal experiences that occurred at a particular time and place
Explicit memory The act of consciously or intentionally retrieving past experiences
Implicit memory The influence of past experiences on later behavior and performance, even without an effort to remember them or an awareness of the recollection. This memory is less likely to affected by amnesia
Procedural memory A particular kind of implicit memory which involves the gradual acquisition of skills as a result of practice, or knowing how to do things.
Priming An enhanced ability to think of a stimulus such as a word or object, as a result of a recent exposure. This is an example of implicit memory - parts of both the occipital and frontal lobes are used
Retroactive interference Situations in which later learning impairs memory
Proactive interference Situations earlier learning impairs memory for information acquired later
Prospective memory Remembering to do things in the future
Absentmindedness A lapse in attention that results in memory failure
Bias The distorting influences of present knowledge, beliefs, and feelings on recollection of previous experiences
Consistency bias The bias to reconstruct the past to fit the present Change bias The tendency to exaggerate differences between what we feel or believe now and what we felt we believed in the past Egocentric bias Change between present and past in order to make ourselves look good in retrospect Flashbulb memories Detailed recollections of when and how we heard shocking events
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