If fortunate enough, most people are able to sense the world around them through all five senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. The information from these senses is paired with thoughts and memories from each experience, which the brain uses to tell individuals how to perceive input from the outside world. The following information will cover reasons for believing in the accuracy of sensory information, the contributing factors to accurate sensory data, and the role of nature versus nurture with regard to the interpretation and evaluation of sensory data.
Sensory interaction, selective attention, and sensory adaptation aid in the accuracy of sensory information. Sensory interaction is when different senses work together to create an experience. An example of sensory interaction is the McGurk Effect, an error in perception that happens when audio and visual parts are mismatched. For instance, a young woman can be on one side of the room and whisper the words “Olive Juice”, while the young man on the other side of room assumes she said “I love you” because he misperceived the sound “Olive Juice” with what he visually perceived as “I love you”. Many believe that the accuracy to understand speech is only through the sense of sound, but the visual aspect is also important (Stangor, 2010).
Selective attention is another aid in the accuracy of sensory information. It is the ability to focus on certain sensory responses while tuning out the others. Often times something important is missed because the individual selectively ignored part of an action. For example, how many times does a boiling pot overflow because the individual was on the phone while cooking a meal? Selective attention is limiting, but it also allows individuals the ability to focus on a single conversation at a party rather than all of the conversations going on in the same room. Without this automatic selective attention, the information perceived could get confusing (Stangor, 2010).
The last process of accurate sensory perception is sensory adaptation. Sensory adaptation is the decreased sensitivity to a stimulus after constant exposure. After constant exposure to the same stimulus, sensitivity to it often weakens and it is no longer perceived. For example, when stepping into a swimming pool, the water feels cold at first, but after a while the individual stops noticing it. The ability to adapt to things that don’t change is essential because it leaves our senses to detect important changes in our environment and to respond accordingly. Sensory adaptation affects the accuracy of sensory perception because the sensory receptors can become fatigued and unaware to what is going on in the environment (Stangor, 2010).
The human body uses the five senses to enrich what the brain thinks. However, the accuracy of the data delivered from the senses can be compromised if the individual is sick, drowsy, or tired. Food, drugs, and sleep can affect the accuracy of sensory data. Without adequate nutrients from food, the brain cannot function properly. According to Kirby & Goodpaster, “vitamin deficiency has been linked to problems in memory, concentration, and depression.” Eating the right foods gives the brain the proper nutrients it needs to perceive sensory data accurately (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, p. 69).
Drugs are another contributing factor to the accuracy of sensory data. They interact with the brain’s natural chemical activity and can disrupt cognitive activities. Nicotine is a drug that is commonly absorbed through smoking. It can affect complex memory and learning tasks by decreasing reasoning abilities and impairing complex performance tasks. Drugs can hinder an individual’s sensory receptors, thus affecting the accuracy of sensory data (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, p. 70).
Sleep is another important factor to the accuracy of sensory data. Sleep deprivation can affect optimum cognitive functioning and it can negatively affect logical thinking and concentration. It is important that the brain does not experience mental fatigue because accurate sensory data is important for critical thinking and concentration (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, p. 71).
The role of nature versus nurture is important when evaluating sensory data. Sensual perceptions such as limited biology, custom, and language teach individuals how to perceive each experience. With limited biology, people experience superficial. For example, adults know that if someone hides behind a blanket, the individual is still there, whereas a newborn assumes that the individual disappeared. Through custom, people experience habit. Through habit, adults know to use the toilet if they sense the need to relieve themselves; newborns just go in their diapers. Finally, through language, people experience the general. Language is the interpretive medium for input. Although a newborn has language capabilities, spontaneous babble is useless until they learn to match certain sounds with meanings. It is through nurture that individuals can evaluate sensory data (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, pp. 55, 56, 92).
The accuracy of sensory perception can be derived from sensory interaction, selective attention, and sensory adaptation. Some of the contributing factors that can affect the accuracy of sensory data are food, drugs, and sleep. When evaluating sensory data, the role of nurture is evident due to the fact that sensual perceptions such as limited biology, custom, and language teach individuals how to perceive each experience rather than being born with that knowledge.
Kirby, G. R., & Goodpaster, J. R. (2007). THINKING: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Critical and Creative Thought, Fourth Edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education. Stangor, C. (2010). Introduction to Psychology. n.c.: Flat World Knowledge, LLC.