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5+ Human Senses

Sight (vision) Hearing (audition) Touch (somatosensation)

Pain (nociception) Balance (vestibular system) Joint senses (proprioception) Body sensations (interoception)

Taste (gustatation) Smell (olfaction)


Other senses in other species

electricity echolocation

sun compass


Variations in Abilities

Pit vipers can see infrared light

Moles live underground, no/poor vision

Bloodhounds can pick up a 24hr old trail

Primates have color vision

Sensation and Perception

the processes of sensory responding and of the sensory receiving areas of the brain

mental operations that organize sensations into meaningful patterns


Sensation: image on back of eye Perception: a pencil

How do we measure the Senses? Psychophysics

Examines relationship btw physical stimuli and sensory experience/ perception May provide basis for inferring activity at the neural level Historically, was directed at answering philosophical questions about the relationship btw mind and body (Weber, Fechner, Wundt) Modern psychophysics is a set of tools for investigating the nervous system-- information processing capacities

The Briefest Possible Overview of Psychophysics

physical characteristics psychological experience
Perceptual experience e.g. % correct
vary the stimulus, measure the response 100

low high Physical property of stimulus

An Example of Psychophysics: Thresholds-- sound example

vary intensity of stimulus measure subject s ability to detect it Example: a hearing test

Low Volume Subject never hears it

High Volume Subject always hears it Usually a gradual, not abrupt function Sigmoid

Threshold Subject hears it half the time

Absolute threshold
50% threshold

Just noticeable difference (JND)
Smallest difference you can detect reliably (50% of the time)

Rating of subjective magnitude

In one experiment, two observers obtain the the results shown below

On the basis of these data it is reasonable to assume that they have equivalent sensitivities"

In another experiment, two observers show a different pattern of results

Question: Are the differences in the thresholds real, or can they be attributed to other factors?"

It is possible that these observers are equally sensitive but for some reason have different thresholds

According to Signal Detection Theory, " observer sensitivity and decision criterion placement can be distinguished"

Although it is possible that one observer is more sensitive than the other, it is also possible that she is a more liberal responder; i.e. she is more likely to say yes to barely detectable stimuli In signal detection terms, she has a lower response criterion When an observer reports that he detects a stimulus he is simply making a decision as to whether his sensation level has exceeded some internal criterion that he has set.

Commonalities of the Senses

basic responses of the senses

making sense of the senses

sensory receptors sensory neurons

carry impulses to the CNS (usually via the thalamus)

sensory areas

Sensory Receptors

transduce physical stimulus into neural signal physical stimulus can be radiant energy (light), mechanical energy (sound, touch) or chemical reactions (taste, smell) affect ionic channels to begin chain of neural activity

Anatomical Coding
GENTLY press on the side of your eye see phosphenes (flashes of light) Why do you see pressure? (mechanically stimulating the retina)

Why study touch?

Our skin is our largest sensory system Touch allows us to explore and manipulate the world
tactile exploration assessment of textures feedback from object manipulation

Touch is more trustworthy than other senses.

Touch & development: Premature babies

licking of newborn pups by mother rat (or stroking with a paintbrush) stimulates growth hormone premature babies who are massaged gain weight 47% faster than those who aren t


touch is fundamental to human interactions even subliminal touch affects behaviour

subliminal touch by librarian patrons report greater satisfaction with library and with life subliminal touch by waitress higher tips

Two-point touch threshold

Touch acuity minimum separation that can be detected between two points sensitivity (1/threshold) varied across parts of body
fingertips and lips: highly sensitive back and stomach: poor sensitivity

Touch receptors
Several types of receptor are found within the dermis receptors transduce mechanical, thermal, chemical or electrical energy into neural signals number and type of receptor varies with location on skin

Spinal Cord
somatosensory cortex = SI = postcentral gyrus

thalamus receptors in skin

spinal cord

Cross-over right body left brain left body right brain

Primary Somatosensory Cortex

rte x( SI )
rte x Co M ot or

Stimulating Electrode

Posterior Parietal Cortex areas involved in touch

Remember Dr. Penfield

Motor and Somatosensory Maps








Somatotopic Organization

Somatosensory and Motor Homunculus

Homunculus (little man)
shows the relative size of the somatosensory representation devoted to various body parts Do you notice a relationship between the size of the representation and the sensitivity (e.g., two-point touch threshold)?

Thought experiment

The star-nosed mole uses its nose for exploration, prey capture and feeding. What would you expect its homunculus to look like?


Star-nosed Mole Homunculus

Are brain maps fixed or plastic?

Prior to the 1980s, scientists assumed that brain maps were hard-wired and unchangeable. Do the maps actually depend on experience?

More Experience Larger representation

Merzenich & colleagues had monkey use index finger to obtain food Representation of that fingertip grew with experience

Phantom Limb
amputees report rich and vivid perceptions of touch to the amputated limb stimulation to remaining parts of the body can be perceived in the missing limb


Normal Subject
You touched my arm You touched my hand You touched my face


Phantom Limb Subject



Phantom Limb Subject


You touched my hand You touched my face


How did it get that way?

Minimize cortical distances (axon lengths) between areas that are activated together

Why Pain?
warning system injuries, tissue damage

Pain pathway
Gate-Control Theory " "
Pain"" gate at spinal cord controlled by drugs, attention, expectation" Not a structure but relative responses of bers"


Why study smell and taste?

Evolutionary significance Safety and survival

Hedonism (Enjoyment)

Emotion & Memory (Marcel Proust s madeleines)

Smell and Taste

Chemical senses Smell = olfaction Taste = gustatation chemosensation rely on chemoreceptors Interdependence between smell and taste


I always thought I would sacrifice smell to taste if I had to choose between the two, but I suddenly realized how much I had missed. We take it for granted and are unaware that everything smells: people the air, my house, my skin --anosmic patient (Birnberg,1988, in Ackerman, 1990) = without smell complete inability to smell odor blindness damage by chemicals or drugs or brain damage or illness often temporary (e.g., during a cold) can cause a loss of appetite and libido

volatile substances must give off vapors

Identification vs. Discrimination

Odor Identification: Most people can identify fewer than half the odors presented to them in a laboratory experiment. tip of the nose phenomenon : inability to name a familiar odor

Odor discrimination: Although identification is poor, people can tell the difference between approximately 10,000 odors With training and additional clues, people can reach 98% correct odor identification Varies from person to person Females are typically better than males Declines with age Worse for smokers than non-smokers


Olfactory system

olfactory epithelium
olfactory mucosa olfactory sensory neurons

olfactory receptors

unlike other senses, receptors are in direct contact with the outside world olfactory nerve olfactory bulb

Olfactory perceptual system cont d

olfactory cortex other brain areas limbic system emotion and memory orbitofrontal cortex

Animal Pheromones
Truffle pigs
When a boar becomes sexually aroused, he secretes copious amounts of frothy saliva. The saliva contains two steroids that are significant in the reproductive behavior of pigs. Upon an initial (apparently positive) encounter, the boar and sow engage in a great deal of head-to-head contact. If sufficiently encouraged, the male will spray this pheromone-ridden saliva all over the sow s face, which induces a rigid, immobile posture in the sow. The posture indicates to the boar that the female is now ready to mate, and mating then occurs. Interestingly, truffles excrete the same steroids as a male pig, which is apparently why pigs are such good detectors of this subterranean delicacy. -- Howard Hughes, Sensory Exotica


Are there human pheromones?

Drenching himself in boar s musk and wearing Brad Pitt s T-shirt will not transform the universally rejected male suitor into an idol pursued by all women (even those -- or especially those -- near enough to smell him). -- Henry Gleitman, Psychology (5th ed.)



only four (debatably five) aspects

sweet salty bitter sour umami (e.g., monosodium glutamate; tastes meaty or savory )

the complex sensation associated with food, based on the food s taste, temperature, texture and smell flavor = taste + olfaction

pain receptors on tongue register capsaicin, the substance in hot peppers

Taste without Smell

Black bars = correct identification with smell White bars = correct identification without smell


substance must be soluable
you don t taste your fork

need saliva
25 ounces (1 L) per day!

mixtures interact in complex ways

whole can be more than sum of parts

Tongue Papillae
Tongue muscle with mucous membrane covered in papillae ( pimples )

Tongue Map
Textbooks used to say that you could only taste certain things in different regions of the tongue Those maps only apply to weak solutions With stronger solutions, you can taste any of the aspects anywhere you have taste buds


Taste buds
receptor cells for taste in papillae none in the centre of your tongue
a gustatory blind spot

also in throat, roof of mouth and inside of cheeks life expectancy ~10 days each bud has ~50 taste receptor cells a taste bud looks like a head of garlic and the receptors look like the cloves

Taste system

taste buds 3 nerves thalamus insula (primary gustatory cortex)

Individual differences
Different people have different sensitivity to certain substances Scientific American video clip PTC
report little taste 25% of people

report bitter taste 50% of people

report extremely bitter taste 25% of people


Nontasters, Tasters and Supertasters

Dye tongue blue Count number of papillae in reinforcement circle at tip
<20: nontaster >40: supertaster



The Genetics of Taste

Family studies suggest genetic component Gene on Chromosome #5 (may be affected by another gene on Chromosome #7) T = PTC tasting allele, dominant; t = recessive
tt = non-tasters Tt or tT = tasters TT = supertasters

supertasters are more common among females; proportions vary among racial groups

Taste variability
I do not like broccoli. And I haven t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I m President of the United States and I m not going to eat any more broccoli. -- George Bush (Sr., the elected )

Individual differences in taste ability may account for people s taste preferences Does cilantro taste like soap to you? (People also differ in their ability to smell certain substances too asparagus pee )


PTC and everyday tastes

Supertasters caffeine tastes more bitter more sensitive to oral pain (capsaicin in chili peppers, piperine in black pepper, stinging of alcohol on papillae) more intense sensation of fat in dairy products may dislike bitter compounds in food and eat fewer healthy foods (grapefruit, brussels sprouts, cabbage) less likely to smoke or become alcoholic less likely to like sweet or high-fat foods tend to be thinner