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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Identify the general and special senses in humans
  • Describe three important steps in sensory perception
  • Explain the concept of just-noticeable difference in sensory perception

Senses provide information about the body and its environment. Humans have five special senses: olfaction (smell), gustation (taste), equilibrium (balance and body position), vision, and hearing. Additionally, we possess general senses, also called somatosensation, which respond to stimuli like temperature, pain, pressure, and vibration. Vestibular sensation , which is an organism’s sense of spatial orientation and balance, proprioception    (position of bones, joints, and muscles), and the sense of limb position that is used to track kinesthesia    (limb movement) are part of somatosensation. Although the sensory systems associated with these senses are very different, all share a common function: to convert a stimulus (such as light, or sound, or the position of the body) into an electrical signal in the nervous system. This process is called sensory transduction    .

There are two broad types of cellular systems that perform sensory transduction. In one, a neuron works with a sensory receptor    , a cell, or cell process that is specialized to engage with and detect a specific stimulus. Stimulation of the sensory receptor activates the associated afferent neuron, which carries information about the stimulus to the central nervous system. In the second type of sensory transduction, a sensory nerve ending responds to a stimulus in the internal or external environment: this neuron constitutes the sensory receptor. Free nerve endings can be stimulated by several different stimuli, thus showing little receptor specificity. For example, pain receptors in your gums and teeth may be stimulated by temperature changes, chemical stimulation, or pressure.


The first step in sensation is reception    , which is the activation of sensory receptors by stimuli such as mechanical stimuli (being bent or squished, for example), chemicals, or temperature. The receptor can then respond to the stimuli. The region in space in which a given sensory receptor can respond to a stimulus, be it far away or in contact with the body, is that receptor’s receptive field . Think for a moment about the differences in receptive fields for the different senses. For the sense of touch, a stimulus must come into contact with body. For the sense of hearing, a stimulus can be a moderate distance away (some baleen whale sounds can propagate for many kilometers). For vision, a stimulus can be very far away; for example, the visual system perceives light from stars at enormous distances.


The most fundamental function of a sensory system is the translation of a sensory signal to an electrical signal in the nervous system. This takes place at the sensory receptor, and the change in electrical potential that is produced is called the receptor potential    . How is sensory input, such as pressure on the skin, changed to a receptor potential? In this example, a type of receptor called a mechanoreceptor    (as shown in [link] ) possesses specialized membranes that respond to pressure. Disturbance of these dendrites by compressing them or bending them opens gated ion channels in the plasma membrane of the sensory neuron, changing its electrical potential. Recall that in the nervous system, a positive change of a neuron’s electrical potential (also called the membrane potential), depolarizes the neuron. Receptor potentials are graded potentials: the magnitude of these graded (receptor) potentials varies with the strength of the stimulus. If the magnitude of depolarization is sufficient (that is, if membrane potential reaches a threshold), the neuron will fire an action potential. In most cases, the correct stimulus impinging on a sensory receptor will drive membrane potential in a positive direction, although for some receptors, such as those in the visual system, this is not always the case.

Questions & Answers

What is Staining?
Fazal Reply
what is biology
Biology is the study of life
what is biology
Ysabella Reply
biology is a study of living things
Biology is a diverse branch of science that deals with mostly living things
What happen when inhibit the transcription?
what is the effect of not doing sexual intercourse
what is the mechanism of cellular respiration
Rita Reply
what is enzyme
garry Reply
They are organic catalysts that alter the rate of chemical reactions in the body.
meaning they speed up reaction
Enzymes are forms of chemicals that are specialized in their own areas.(eg digestion of food)
what is a cell
Praize Reply
Basic Functional Unit of Life
what is biology
Mordi Reply
biology is the study of living organisms and their interactions with one another and their environments
which of the following event does not occur during some stages of interface?
Bangha Reply
What is microfilaments
KHalid Reply
What is multicellular organisms
Ovie Reply
these are organisms with more than two cells
the process when a male toad fertilizer a female eggs is called what?
Ahrebe Reply
how did unicellular organisms form plants and animals or is it that different unicellular organisms formed plants and animald
YXNG Reply
name the components of faeces
undigested carbohydrate, fibre
what are unicellular organisms..?
they have only one cell
faeces contains many undigested food materials, after the food has been digested then it will be absorbed in the blood stream for assimilation.,......... but the remains toxic materials are stored in the rectum these toxic materials are the faeces and it contains bile salts, the polysaccharides .
unicellular organisms are the ones with only single cell.
thanks for your answers guys.
what is class bryophyta
Emefa Reply
how many stages do we have in glycolysis?
10 stages
the presence of a membrane enclosed nuclosed is a characteristics of what
Addai Reply
eukaryotic cell

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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