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Welcome you to Sensation and Perception and thank you for
joining me on this journey into both the mystery and knowledge that we have of
an aspect of our mind that most of us take for granted: our senses. Broadly speaking, the study of sensation and perception is the study of how an
organism's brain knows what is going on in the world around it. To help you appreciate the questions
that scientists studying sensation and perception struggle with, think of the captain of a
ship far out to sea. What does that captain need to know to safely sail the ship? The captain must be able to detect
obstacles, other ships, and weather conditions such as storms that may
effect the operation and safety of the ship. To perform these functions, the captain has
radar, sonar and other sensor systems to gain information about the ocean environment. In
addition, the captain must know about the operating condition of the ship, such as fuel
level and temperature of the engine. Sensors have been placed in the ship to give the
captain the needed information. A limited analogy can be drawn between your brain or mind
captain. In the same manner as the captain, your brain does not have direct
access to the information necessary to behave in an intelligent and effective manner.
Thus, our sensory systems such as vision and audition are like the radar and
sonar which provides necessary information to guide behavior. You also have sensory systems that
obtain information about the state of your body such as your position relative to the
This course is part of the Natural World LADR. Let
me quote from the Hanover College catalog for a description of the liberal arts:
The liberal arts are arts suited for free people. The purpose of a liberal
arts education is to enable such people to cultivate humanity, to realize their
full potential as human beings and as citizens. Accordingly, the liberal arts
are designed to equip individuals to develop and integrate every dimension of
their own humanity--physical, intellectual, artistic, ethical, and
spiritual--and to understand and respect the humanity of others. (p. 8)
This course fits this description in many
ways. I want to highlight only a few. First, to develop ourselves,
we must know ourselves. Our senses are among the most misunderstood
aspects of our human nature. Thus, in this course will be working against a
large body of misunderstanding. Second, issues
in this course are applicable to the way we interact with art and technology in
the world around us. As such, this course can help us integrate knowledge
from many areas into a more coherent view of the world and ourselves.
Due to the fact that this course plays many different types of
roles in the college, I have grouped the objectives into different categories.
Depending upon the reason you are in this course, you may not see a need for all
of the objectives. However, the objectives all work together and the first two
sets of objectives actually are vehicles to support the higher level objectives
which are the real reason for taking any course.
Course Specific Objectives:
The specific objective of this course is to develop your understanding of how our sensory
systems operate to gain information about the world around us. One of the difficulties with teaching Sensation
and Perception is that we all intuitively know what we see, hear, etc. In
addition, we have an implicit trust that what our senses tell us about is physical
reality. This belief is held despite most people having extensive experience with
illusions which illustrate the indirect and interpretive nature of the
information our senses
provide. You will have to leave many of these intuitions behind, because there are
many surprises in how our sensory systems actually operate.
Role of Course in the Major:
In the psychology major, this course is one of the options for a basic or 200 level
experimental psychology course. Experimental psychology traditionally has
referred to those areas of psychology that have emphasized the laboratory and
experimental methods for its research. Thus, areas such as sensation and
perception, cognition, and learning have fallen under this general rubric.
Many fundamental findings that drive most of our speculation about the nature of
the human mind are based on findings in these areas.
As a result of this placement of sensation and perception in
the major, the course is designed to give you a fundamental introduction to
experimental methods and ideas using this topic. The other course at this
level of the major is PSY162 Neuropsychology. Together these courses are often grouped
under the rubric of biological psychology and, thus, present how biological
knowledge and approaches have been used to facilitate understanding in
psychology. So while there are many non-biological approaches to sensation
and perception and they will be covered, there is a need to make sure you
understand the basics of the nervous system and how this basic understanding
yields important insights for psychology.
This course also needs to provide a foundation of basic experimental methods
as used in the laboratory areas of psychology. In the advanced
experimental course in psychology you
will be expected to design your own experimental project in the area of that
course and to execute that project. So, the laboratory section is designed
to help you get experience with the various components of how experiments are
conducted in experimental psychology so that you will be prepared to conduct
your project in the advanced course.
Role of Course in the Natural World LADR: I will quote here
some of the general objectives for all Natural World courses. These are objectives
that this course will emphasize. The objective that will be assessed particularly is in bold.
- Articulate a central assumption of science: the universe operates
according to universally consistent rules, and we can discover these rules
by logical thought subject to test through experiments and observations
- Recognize that there is no single scientific method, that the scientific
enterprise consists of multiple methods and tools of investigation for
evaluating ideas, and that all science relies upon the acquisition of
evidence obtained through experimentation and observation to test hypotheses
and theories rather than upon the acceptance of ideas based on authority
- Understand that scientific inquiry is not formulaic in practice and be
able to explain how science works as a blend of logic, imagination, and
serendipity to produce theories that have both explanatory and predictive
power subject to validation by experiments and observations
- Demonstrate with examples that science is a distinguishing feature of
the contemporary world, and that the scientific enterprise is embedded in
and influenced by the political, social, economic, and cultural contexts of
- Conduct a scientific investigation, including the formulation of
questions and hypotheses, the development of methods of investigation, the
collection and analysis of data, and the presentation of the work in written
and oral scientific style
Objectives Connected to the Liberal Arts:
This course connects to the liberal arts in several ways. Science is a traditional and fundamental area of study in the liberal arts.
Science is different from many of the other areas of knowledge by its apparent
ability to build a body of knowledge that is to some degree cumulative and gains
a very wide degree of acceptance by practitioners of that field. It is
these characteristics that has led to the claim, made by some, that scientific knowledge is
more objective that other disciplines. But, science is not a fixed set of
facts to be learned, but a constantly changing
and evolving body of knowledge like any other scholarly field you find taught at
Hanover College. To understand science, in fact to understand any
discipline taught here at Hanover, requires one to understand how the field
learns and expands its horizon and critiques its past knowledge. Thus,
this class will emphasize the data and reasoning that leads researchers in
sensation and perception to certain conclusions and in the class we will be
asked to critique these data and the consequent reasoning. In addition,
one feature of the liberal
arts is that it prepares people "to lead deliberate, examined lives." (Catalog,
However, one facet of our lives that often goes little examined is how it is
possible that we can sense and perceive the world around us and how these
mechanisms that make sensation and perception affect our lives. By making
you aware of these mechanisms a more aware life is possible.
Read material and use media before coming to class. In
class, we will not simply present the material from the text but examine the material.
Class is for working on understanding, applications, covering of new material. Thus, familiarity with the
material prior to class is vital.
The labs will be a chance to delve into some of the methods of the field.
Sensation and perception has developed a set of methods that are unique, even
within psychology. These methods have demonstrated their usefulness by
being the basis for many applications you run into on a daily basis.
No Electronic Devices in Class: That means no phones, no handheld
devices, no laptops, no tablets, etc. are to be used at all during class.
Turn assignments in on time. A letter grade
is lost for each late day and nothing will be accepted more than three days
late. Late is defined as one minute after the start time of class.
Participation in Class. As much of this
class will be an investigation into the meaning of the findings we discuss we
need all of you to ask questions, suggest ideas and critique other people's
ideas, including mine.
Seek help as you need it. Unfortunately my
training in psychology has not made me a mind reader. If you are
having troubles seek help from me and/or fellow students before the latter part
of the term. Seek the help as soon as the trouble begins. That
requires you thinking about the material and not just memorizing so that you
know if you really understand it.