Lecture 5: Sensation and Perception
We can divide thresholds into detection thresholds and discrimination thresholds. Detection is the act of sensing a stimulus. In some psychophysics experiments, researchers determine the smallest amount of sound, pressure, taste, or other stimuli that an individual can detect. The level of stimulation that is right on the perceptual borderline is known as the absolute threshold. At the absolute threshold we cannot detect lower levels of stimuli but we can detect higher levels. Another approach to measuring detection thresholds involves signal detection theory (SDT). This theory takes into consideration that there are four possible outcomes on each trial in a detection experiment: the stimulus is either present or not and the participants respond that they can detect a signal or they cannot. This allows for four possibilities: a hit, a miss, a false alarm, or a correct rejection. SDT takes into account response bias, moods, feelings, and decision-making strategies that aﬀect our likelihood of making a given response. Discrimination threshold is the ability to distinguish the diﬀerence between two stimuli. The minimum amount of distance between two stimuli that can be detected as distinct is called the just noticeable diﬀerence (JND) or diﬀerence threshold. Ernst Weber noticed that changes in stimuli at low levels are much easier to notice than changes in stimuli at high levels. The observation that the JND is a proportion of stimulus intensity is called Weber’s law.
Humans are very visual animals... we use our sense of sight to interpret much of the world around us. What we see is called light. However, what we see is really only a small part of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Humans can see only the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation between about 380 and 760 nanometers... this is light. Our eyes do not have detectors for wavelengths of energy less than 380 or greater than 760 nanometers, so we cannot see other types of energy such as gamma or radio waves. Rattlesnakes, however, can detect electromagnetic radiation in the infrared range and use this ability to ﬁnd prey.
First, some speciﬁcs about the eye...the human eye is about 2.5 cm in length and weighs about 7 grams. Light passes through the cornea, pupil and lens before hitting the retina. The iris is a muscle that controls the size of the pupil and therefore, the amount of light that enters the eye. Also, the color of your eyes is determined by the iris. The vitreous or vitreous humor is a clear gel that provides constant pressure to maintain the shape of the eye. The retina is the area of the eye that contains the receptors (rods and cones) that respond to light. The receptors respond to light by generating electrical impulses that travel out of the eye through the optic nerve to the brain.
Parts of the Eye
Aqueous Humor - Clear, watery ﬂuid found in the anterior chamber of the eye. Choroid - Layer of blood vessels that nourish the eye; also, because of the high melanocytes content, the choroid acts as a light-absorbing layer. Cornea - Transparent tissue covering the front of the eye. Does not have any blood vessels; does have nerves. Iris - Circular band of muscles that controls the size of the pupil. The pigmentation of the iris gives ”color” to the eye. Blue eyes have the least amount of pigment; brown eyes have the most. Lens - Transparent tissue that bends light passing through the eye. To focus light, the lens can change shape by bending. Pupil - Hole in the center of the eye where light passes through. Retina - Layer of tissue on the back portion of the eye that contains cells responsive to light (photoreceptors) Rods - Photoreceptors responsive in low light conditions. Cones - Photoreceptors responsive to color and in bright conditions. Sclera - Protect coating around the posterior ﬁve-sixths of the eyeball Vitreous Humor - Clear, jelly-like ﬂuid found in the back portion of the eye. Maintains shape of the eye.
The retina is the back part of the eye that contains the cells that respond to light. These specialized cells are called photoreceptors. There are 2 types of photoreceptors in the retina: rods and cones. The rods are most sensitive to light and dark changes, shape and movement and contain only one type of light-sensitive pigment. Rods are not good for color vision. In a dim room, however, we use mainly our rods, but we are color blind. Rods are more numerous than cones in the periphery of the retina. Next time you want to see a dim star at night, try to look at it with your peripheral vision and use your scotopic vision to see the dim star. There are about 120 million rods in the human retina. The cones are not as sensitive to light as the rods. However, cones are most sensitive to one of three diﬀerent colors (green, red or blue). Signals from the cones are sent to the brain which then translates these messages into the perception of color. Cones, however, work only in bright light. That’s why you cannot see color very well in dark places. So, the cones are used for color vision and are better suited for detecting ﬁne details. There are about 6 million cones in the human retina. people Some people cannot tell some colors from others - these people are color blind. Someone who is color blind does not have a particular type of cone in the retina or one type of cone may be weak. In the general population, about 8% of all males are color blind and about 0.5% of all females are color blind. The fovea, is the central region of the retina that provides for the most clear vision. In the fovea, there are NO rods... only cones. The cones are also packed closer together here in the fovea than in the rest of the retina. Also, blood vessels and nerve ﬁbers go around the fovea so light has a direct path to the photoreceptors. One part of the retina does NOT contain any photoreceptors. This is our ”blind spot”. Therefore any image that falls on this region will NOT be seen. It is in this region that the optic nerves come together and exit the eye on their way to the brain.
The Optic Tract
Imagine that the colored bar (half red, half blue) is in front of your eyes. The red part of the bar will project to the nasal part of your left retina and the temporal (lateral) part of your right retina. The blue part of the bar will project to the nasal part of your right retina and the temportal (lateral) part of your left retina. Like many pathways in the nervous system, right and left visual information cross to the other side of the brain (this is called contralateral shift). This occurs in the optic chiasm. After the optic chiasm, Information about the right visual ﬁeld (blue) is on the left side of the brain, and information about the left visual ﬁeld (red) in on the right side. The pathways stay this way and all the way up to the visual cortex. Follow the blue and red lines from the eyes to see the ﬂow of information. From the retina, the ﬁrst synapse is in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus. The next synapse is made in primary visual cortex in the occiptal lobe.
Sound waves cause the tympanic membrane (eardrum) to vibrate. Humans can hear sounds waves with frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz. The three bones in the ear (malleus, incus, stapes) pass these vibrations on to the cochlea. The cochlea is a snail-shaped, ﬂuid-ﬁlled structure in the inner ear. Inside the cochlea is another structure called the organ of Corti. Hair cells are located on the basilar membrane of the cochlea. The cilia (the hair) of the hair cells make contact with another membrane called the tectorial membrane. When the hair cells are excited by vibration, a nerve impulse is generated in the auditory nerve. These impulses are then sent to the brain.
Hair cells are the receptors in the olfactory epithelium that respond to particular chemicals. These cells have small hairs called cilia on one side and an axon on the other side. In humans, there are about 40 million olfactory receptors; in the German Shepherd dog, there are about 2 billion olfactory receptors. No one knows what actually causes olfactory receptors to react - it could be a chemical molecule’s shape or size or electrical charge. The electrical activity produced in these hair cells is transmitted to the olfactory bulb. The information is then passed on to mitral cells in the olfactory bulb. The olfactory tract transmits the signals to the brain to areas such as the olfactory cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus. Many of these brain areas are part of the limbic system. The limbic system is involved with emotional behavior and memory. That’s why when you smell something, it often brings back memories associated with the object. As you probably know, when you have a cold and your nose is stuﬀed up, you cannot smell very well. This is because the molecules that carry smell cannot reach the olfactory receptors.
The actual organ of taste is called the taste bud. Each taste bud (and there approximately 10,000 taste buds in humans) is made up of many (between 50-150) receptor cells. Receptor cells live for only 1 to 2 weeks and then are replaced by new receptor cells. Each receptor in a taste bud responds best to one of the basic tastes. A receptor can respond to the other tastes, but it responds strongest to a particular taste. All tastes are a combination of sensation of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. There are two cranial nerves that innervate the tongue and are used for taste: the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) and the glossopharyngeal nerve (cranial nerve IX). The facial nerve innervates the anterior (front) twothirds of the tongue and the glossopharyngeal nerve innervates that posterior (back) one-third part of the tongue. Another cranial nerve (the vagus nerve, X) carries taste information from the back part of the mouth. The cranial nerves carry taste information into the brain to a part of the brain stem called the nucleus of the solitary tract. From the nucleus of the solitary tract, taste information goes to the thalamus and then to the cerebral cortex. Like information for smell, taste information also goes to the limbic system (hypothalamus and amygdala). Another cranial nerve (the trigeminal nerve, V) also innervates the tongue, but is not used for taste. Rather, the trigeminal nerve carries information related to touch, pressure, temperature and pain.
The skin has cutaneous and tactile receptors that provide information about pressure, pain, and temperature. The receptor cells sensitive to pressure and movement are fast-conducting myelinated neurons which send information to the spinal cord. From here the information goes to the medulla oblongata, the thalamus, and ﬁnally to the somatosensory cortex. Pain and temperature information receptor cells are not myelinated. They relay their information to the spinal nerves. This information projects to the limbic system and then to the somatosensory cortex. The receptor cells for temperature can be divided into cold ﬁbers and warm ﬁbers that are sensitive to their respective temperatures.
Other senses include the vestibular system which provides balance and proprioception which allows you to know where your limbs are in relation to your body.