In This Article Perception

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks
  • Journals

Psychology Perception
Elyssa Twedt, Dennis R. Proffitt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0119


Perception is the study of how sensory information is processed into perceptual experiences. In some cases, actions are guided by sensory information processed outside of awareness, and such cases will be discussed later. There are five primary senses, each with unique sensory inputs, structures, and mechanisms underlying its function. However, all five senses share the common goal of picking up sensory information from the external environment and processing that information into a perceptual experience. In vision, light activates photoreceptors on the retina, which leads to a cascade of chemical and electrical events, processing in the visual cortex, and finally the experience of seeing. For audition, changes in air pressure are transformed by the inner ear and auditory cortex into the experience of hearing sound. The experiences of touch, pain, and temperature result from the activation of mechanoreceptors, nociceptors, and thermoreceptors on the skin, which send information to the somatosensory cortex. The sense of smell arises once odorant receptors in the nose detect gas molecules and structures within the olfactory cortex work to discriminate, identify, and affectively evaluate odor qualities. Finally, taste occurs when liquid or solid molecules stimulate receptors on the tongue and information about taste quality can be processed by the gustatory cortex. Perceptual scientists have utilized a variety of behavioral, physiological, and neuroimaging techniques to discover how sensory inputs are organized in the brain and how sensory coding maps onto perceptual experiences. The sections of this article provide a thorough discussion of each sensory system, the major areas of research within each field, how the sensory systems often interact to create multisensory experiences, and how non-sensory factors, such as cognition, behavior, and experience, can affect perceptual experience. Historical accounts are often included to provide a broader context for contemporary research. This article shows that some of the sensory systems, such as vision and audition, have a longer history of study and are much better understood than touch, smell, or taste.


Most traditional textbooks for an introductory course on perception consist of approximately two-thirds coverage of visual perception, including anatomy and physiology, depth, motion, color, and action. The remaining third generally covers the anatomy, physiology, and function of audition, olfaction, touch, and taste. Blake and Sekuler 2005; Goldstein 2013; and Wolfe, et al. 2014 are great textbooks for introductory perception courses. Several textbooks exist for advanced undergraduate and graduate students studying visual perception. For example, Bruce, et al. 2003 utilizes computational, connectionist, and ecological approaches to describe the organization and processing of the visual system, while Palmer 1999 provides a comprehensive guide to the physiology of the visual system, object perception, and visual cognition. Snowden, et al. 2012 is a well-written, accessible, and often humorous book that covers all major topics in visual perception, while Yantis 2001 supplements traditional textbook information with classic empirical articles written by prominent researchers in visual perception. Moore 2012 is a good introductory textbook to auditory perception.

  • Blake, Randolph, and Robert Sekuler. 2005. Perception. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

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    A high-quality introductory textbook for undergraduates.

  • Bruce, Vicki, Mark A. Georgeson, and Patrick R. Green. 2003. Visual perception: Physiology, psychology and ecology. 4th ed. Hove, UK, and New York: Psychology Press.

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    This textbook only covers visual perception, but it is useful for advanced undergraduates or graduate students. The authors present perception in the context of computational, connectionist, and ecological approaches.

  • Goldstein, E. Bruce. 2013. Sensation and perception. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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    A clear, concise, and understandable textbook with informative illustrations and demonstrations throughout.

  • Moore, Brian C. J. 2012. An introduction to the psychology of hearing. 6th ed. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

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    A comprehensive textbook on auditory perception, including anatomy, physiology, perceived loudness, pitch perception, sound localization, and speech perception. First edition published 1977.

  • Palmer, Stephen. 1999. Vision science: Photons to phenomenology. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

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    Written for advanced undergraduate or graduate students. The book is broken into three parts, covering the foundations of vision, spatial vision, and visual dynamics.

  • Snowden, Robert, Peter Thompson, and Tom Troscianko. 2012. Basic vision: An introduction to visual perception. 2d rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A wonderfully written and often humorous introduction to visual perception for advanced undergraduates or graduate students.

  • Wolfe, Jeremy M., Keith R. Kluender, and Dennis M. Levi. 2014. Sensation and perception. 4th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

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    Provides a comprehensive introduction to sensation and perception for undergraduate students.

  • Yantis, Steven, ed. 2001. Visual perception: Essential readings. Key Readings in Cognition. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

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    This graduate-level textbook on visual perception has a unique structure and introduces students to seminal pieces of work in the field. Each chapter begins with an introductory discussion of the topic by the editor, followed by an article written by a leading researcher in that particular area of study.

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