In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Perception

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks
  • Journals

Psychology Perception
Elyssa Twedt, Dennis R. Proffitt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • 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 detecting 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. Goldstein and Brockmole 2017; Schwartz and Krantz 2016; Wolfe, et al. 2017; and Yantis and Abrams 2016 are great textbooks for introductory perception courses. Snowden, et al. 2012 is a well-written, accessible, and often humorous book that covers all major topics in visual perception well-suited for advanced undergraduate and graduate students. Moore 2012 is a good introductory textbook to auditory perception.

  • Goldstein, E. Bruce, and James R. Brockmole. 2017. Sensation and perception. 10th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning.

    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.

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

  • Schwartz, Bennett L., and John H. Krantz. 2016. Sensation and perception. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Comprehensive introductory textbook. Includes a chapter on music perception.

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

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

  • Wolfe, Jeremy M., Keith R. Kluender, Dennis M. Levi, et al. 2017. Sensation and perception. 5th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

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

  • Yantis, Steven, and Richard A. Abrams. 2016. Sensation and perception. 2d ed. New York: Worth.

    This undergraduate-level textbook concludes each chapter with a section on applying basic science to real-world situations.

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