PSYCH306: Sensation and Perception

Course Syllabus for "PSYCH306: Sensation and Perception"

Sensation and perception are the processes by which we absorb information from environmental stimuli and convert it into data that our brains and bodies use to modify behavior. This course will introduce you to these two closely related, though distinct, processes. We will begin with sensation, the physical process by which we use our sense organs (i.e. tongues for taste or noses for smell) to respond to the environmental stimuli around us. Perception, on the other hand, refers to our interpretation of stimuli. It occurs through cognitive processing and enables us to use information in order to change our behavior. While these processes may seem simple, they are just the opposite: large portions of the brain are devoted to the seemingly straightforward processes of seeing and hearing, and entire sensory organs have developed in order to facilitate them. Further, while the brain is constantly using the information it gathers to make decisions, we are entirely unaware of this activity. Unbelievably, studying illusions is one of the easiest ways to learn about how we process stimuli (especially visual stimuli). We will accordingly devote a substantial amount of time to illusions later in this course. In this course, you will not only learn how we use sensation and perception to understand the world around us, but identify the ways in which these processes can fail. We will take a close look at how we use specific behaviors in the presence of certain stimuli by learning about the biology of both the hearing system and the visual system (we will learn, for example, how the visual system measures light, how it sees color and motion, and how it recognizes distinct objects). We will conclude with a discussion of how the other senses (smell, taste, and touch) affect perception.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • describe the sensory systems;
  • distinguish between sensation and perception;
  • explain how sensory and perceptual processes shape our experience of “reality;”
  • explain the basic principles of classical psychophysics;
  • explain how sensation and perception relate to cognition;
  • explain how human sensory systems respond to energy in the physical environment (i.e. light waves, air pressure, chemical molecules, etc.), transforming it into a perceptual experience that the brain can understand (i.e. sight, sound, smell, etc.);
  • compare and contrast the major theoretical perspectives on sensation and perception, including direct perception, indirect perception, and the information processing perspective;
  • compare and contrast the five sensory systems in terms of their sensory/anatomical setup and perceptual organization;
  • explain the roles of evolution, development, society, prior knowledge, and inference in our perceptual judgments and our conscious experiences;
  • identify and define the leading terms, concepts, theoretical perspectives, empirical findings, and historical trends in the study of sensation and perception;
  • compare and contrast psychological principles, theories, and methods as they pertain to sensory and neurological systems;
  • critically read, understand, and evaluate scientific literature, understand and use scientific and technical vocabulary, and synthesize information from multiple sources.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash);

√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;

√    use either Windows XP, Mac OS X 10.4.x or, a more recent operating system;

√    have the ability to open Microsoft Office files and documents (doc, ppt, xls, docx, pptx, xlsx, etc.);

√    be competent in the English language;

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook;

√    have completed PSYCH101and PSYCH202A.
*NOTE: Completion of PSYCH203/BIO101is recommended but not required.

Course Information

Welcome to PSYCH306. Below, please find general information on the course and its requirements.

Primary Resources: This course is composed of a range of different free, online materials. However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research: Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction’s “Photoreceptors”
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research: Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction’s “Targets of the Optic Nerve
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research: Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction’s “Receptive Fields, from the Retina to the Cortex”
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research: Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction’s “The Various Visual Cortexes”
  • Hanover College: Professor John Krantz’s “Experiencing Sensation and Perception”
  • Pearson Education’s “LIVE!Psych: Virtual Tour of the Human Ear”
  • Pearson Education’s “LIVE!Psych: Virtual Tour of the Human Eye”
  • Sinauer Associates, Inc.’s “Sensation and Perception”
  • Stanford University: Professor Alex Huk’s “Object and Face Recognition: Lecture Notes”
  • Stanford University: Professor Alex Huk’s “Seeing Motion: Lecture Notes”
  • Stanford University: Professor Lera Boroditsky’s “Hearing I: Lecture Notes”
  • Stanford University: Professor Lera Boroditsky’s “Hearing II: Lecture Notes”
  • Stanford University: Professor Lera Boroditsky’s “Taste, Smell, and Touch: Lecture Notes”
  • Sumanas, Inc.’s “Receptive Fields in the Retina”
  • Sumanas, Inc.’s “Receptors in the Skin”
  • Sumanas, Inc.’s “Sound Transduction”
  • Sumanas, Inc.’s “Visual Pathways in the Human Brain”
  • UC Berkeley: Instructor John Kihlstrom’s “Sensation and Perception I” Lecture
  • UC Berkeley: Instructor John Kihlstrom’s “Sensation and Perception II” Lecture
  • YouTube: “The Electromagnetic Spectrum”
  • YouTube: BBC’s “Baby Synapse Connection”
  • YouTube: Brandon Pletsch’s “Auditory Transduction”
  • YouTube: Cassiopeia Project’s “Photon”
  • YouTube: Derek Owens’ “Physical Science 7.3a – The Nature of Light”
  • YouTube: Derek Owens’ “Physical Science 7.3b – Light Waves Part 1”
  • YouTube: Derek Owens’ “Physical Science 7.3c – Light Waves Part 2”
  • YouTube: Derek Owens’ “Physical Science 7.3d – Is Light a Particle?”
  • YouTube: Peter Vishton’s “Development of Infant Visual Tracking. Activity 1” from “What Babies Can Do: An Activity-Based Guide to Infant Development”

Requirements for Completion: To complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. You will also need to complete the Final Exam.

To “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 116 hours to complete. Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.