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The 4 differences between sensation and perception

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What are the differences between sensation and perception? Resolving this issue is somewhat more complicated than it might seem because, to begin with, the idea of ​​what sensation is and what perception is are interchanged in popular language.

From experimental psychology a special fascination is felt towards these two phenomena, being often investigated in the laboratories of all the science faculties of the behavior.

Next we are going to discover what the real meanings of these two terms are so that we can clearly see what they are. the main differences between sensation and perception and understand its particularities.

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How to distinguish between sensation and perception

The words "sensation" and "perception" are well known in everyday language. If we went down the street and stopped someone to ask them to define these two terms for us, they would surely tell us that the Sensation is the subjective interpretation of an environmental stimulus while perception would be the simple fact of perceiving such stimulus. He would not be very wrong, except for the insignificant detail that he would have confused the definition of both terms.

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in science, sensation is the objective part and perception is the subjective part of the sensory-perceptual process. Sensation corresponds to the sense organs, which capture "pure" physical stimuli, converting them into nerve impulses and sending them to the brain. brain where perception will take place, that is, the interpretation of such stimuli and the association with previous information, knowledge, emotions…

With this brief clarification that perception is actually sensation and vice versa, we have already introduced a bit of one of its main differences. However, to understand them more thoroughly, we are first going to define in greater depth what we mean by sensation and perception from experimental psychology.

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What is the feeling?

As we mentioned, sensation is popularly understood as the subjective experience associated with a stimulus. We see proof of this in everyday grammatical constructions such as "I have/it gives me the feeling of...", denoting a certain margin of opinion and subjectivity (p. g., it gives me the feeling that it is a warm color, I have the feeling that it is too salty…)

In science, on the other hand, sensation is objective. It refers to the capture of a physical stimulus, without subjective interpretations in between. It involves receiving a stimulus, registering it and encoding the information in the sensory organs so that it travels through the neural pathways or nerves and reaches the brain.

For example, if we see a flower in the field, the feeling part would be that the image of that flower (the light) will travel to the cells of our retina and capture it in the form of different lengths of vibe. The rods and cones of the retina would convert this physical stimulus into nerve impulses, which would travel to the areas of the brain responsible for visual information. Over there, the information would be processed and the interpretation would be given that it is a flower, more or less pretty. This last step would be perception.

The process that gives rise to sensation can be schematized as follows:

1. physical stimulus

The physical stimulus is the matter or energy that impinges on a sense organ. For example: sound, light, chemical substance, electricity, heat…

2. physiological response

The physiological response in the process of sensation refers to the set of activities at the level of the sense organs that convert the stimulus into electrical impulses to travel along the nerves and reach the central nervous system.

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3. sensory experience

Sensory experience is the psychological experience, subjective and individual, about the stimulus. This is a part of the process of perception.

Sensations differ qualitatively and quantitatively. They do it qualitatively in the sense that we find many different types of sensations captured by different organs: visual, gustatory, olfactory, tactile, acoustic, pain... And what they do quantitatively as long as there are softer or weaker stimuli and others more intense, such as the volume of a sound, the luminosity of a light source, the hardness of a texture…

Distinguish between sensation and perception

What is perception?

We have discussed it previously, but we will return to this idea to make it clearer. In basic psychology, perception is understood as a subjective process, a complex interpretation of reality. It is the process of construction and attribution of meaning to the physical stimuli that the organism has captured, as would be the case of seeing that we are seeing a flower or that we hear a beautiful song. Without this process, the uptake of stimuli would remain just that, physical phenomena apparently isolated from each other.

Perception is the way an individual experiences reality. They are the interpretations processed by the brain of the information captured through sensation, of the raw sensory information captured from the environment. Such interpretations are influenced by the interaction of three factors:

  • Past experiences
  • current knowledge
  • innate processes

Perception has always aroused fascination in basic and experimental psychology, especially since the way our perceptual apparatus works determines the image of the world we build. Since ancient times, philosophers have wondered how the mind knows, perceives and processes its reality, giving rise to all kinds of reflections on the relationship between the real, objective world and perception, subjective.

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Main differences between sensation and perception

Now that we understand what sensation and perception are, it's time to see what their main differences are. Basically we can highlight four:

1. reaction vs. elaboration

Sensation is a reaction, while perception is an elaboration. Sensory experience is the reaction to physical stimuli, whether internal or external, captured by the sense organs.

Instead, the perceptual experience is a subjective elaboration of the information captured by the sensory organs, based on interests, habits, memories and data associations. Sensations, to be converted into perceptions, require the central nervous system to retrieve mnemonic data (memories) of past experiences in order to attribute meaning to them.

2. Reception and recruitment

Sensation implies receiving, and perception, grasping.. By this we mean that the sensation consists of receiving "pure" physical stimuli, such as sounds, images, textures... while perception establishes relationships between them, interpreting and seeing characteristics of sets of stimuli and capturing their meaning.

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3. Simplicity vs. complexity

Sensation is an elementary process, caused by the mere incidence of a stimulus on the receptor organs. Instead, perception is a much more complex psychological phenomenon, where several areas of the brain are involved and information processing is carried out, integrating it.

4. immediacy

Sensation is a much more immediate process than perception., since the first takes place directly in the sense organs while the second involves several steps: first, that the information is encoded in nerve impulses, after it travels down the nerves and after it reaches different parts of the brain where it will be decoded, interpreted as a particular type of information and given sense.

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