Perceptual Psychology

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The perceptual psychology examines the subjective portion of perception , by the objective sensory physiology can not be explained. The objects of general sensory physiology differ in objective ( physical - chemical ) and subjective relationships between stimuli and their sensation . In the case of physically definable stimuli, one speaks of psychophysics ; in the case of stimuli that can not be described physically or only with great difficulty (such as face recognition), one speaks of perceptual psychology.


Living beings use their senses to grasp the physical properties of their environment and their own bodies. However, there is a considerable difference between what a sense organ of a living being senses and what the living being perceives. For example, when looking at a deciduous tree, thousands and thousands of leaves are projected onto the retina of the eye , but a person usually does not perceive them individually, but rather “sees” the tree as a whole. The subjective perception also does not always correspond to the objectively given physical stimuli that triggered this perception. This difference is particularly evident in perceptual illusions , but also in other perception processes that help to perceive constant properties of an object regardless of changing environmental conditions, as in the case of color constancy .

Attention to the respective stimuli plays a decisive role in the subjective experience of sensory impressions . The pressure of clothing on the skin, for example, is not felt most of the time, unless you focus your own sensitivity on this stimulus.

On the way between the physical sense organ and mental cognition, information is filtered, summarized, divided into categories and sorted according to importance. This complex process is called perception and is one of the objects of investigation in perceptual psychology.

In order to understand perceptions, it is helpful to know their biological basis, especially the structure and function of the sensory organs and their neurobiological interconnection with the brain. Perceptual psychology therefore always begins with an investigation of this “starting material”. You can limit yourself to describing the process of perception, or you can try to explain how it works.


Sub-themes of perceptual psychology in the above sense include:

historical development

The field of perception has often played a prominent role in the history of psychology . At the end of the 19th century, when the structure and function of the nervous system was discovered in physiology, a new branch of academic psychology emerged closely related to physiology and its equipment, which for the first time dealt with perceptual processes (including "impossible" such as optical Systematically investigate deceptions . Due to the precisely controllable test setups (in the visual area e.g. type and shape of the template, color, distance, size, light conditions, context, position in the perception area, observation time, etc.), perceptual processes and their limits could be recorded experimentally.

The process of perceiving

The process of perception is generally divided into three stages: feeling, organizing and classifying. On the first stage z. B. the image of an object on the retina when seeing . In the second step, what you see has to be organized, i.e. H. can be assembled into a solid form. People who lack this ability experience the world as incoherent and fragmented (cf. Marcel, 1983 the case of Dr. Richard). On the third level, the sensory impressions are assigned a meaning, they are categorized and assessed. In this way, the seen object becomes a “person” or a “vase”. Only this last step makes an adequate reaction to what is perceived possible at all (see perception theory). On the subject of organization see also Konstanzphänomen .

Proximal and distal stimuli

The object seen is referred to as the “ distal stimulus ” and its image on the retina as the “ proximal stimulus ”. There are more differences between these two stimuli than one might think at first glance. An important difference is the dimension, because the image is two-dimensional, whereas the "original" is three-dimensional. Furthermore, we often do not see the entire object, but only parts of it. Or we see it from different perspectives. For example, if we see a rectangular image from the side, its two-dimensional retinal image would have the shape of a trapezoid , but we still recognize it as a rectangle . In order to be able to recognize the object, our brain has to fall back on experience and mechanisms for recognition.

Different approaches

The theory of Hermann von Helmholtz

According to Hermann von Helmholtz , experience makes a decisive contribution to our view of the environment. According to the theory he established in 1866, we use it unconsciously to infer what we have perceived. In our familiar environment, this “unconscious conclusion” allows us to perceive quickly and effectively, since we only need a few cues . However, it often leads to incorrect interpretations in unknown situations.

The ecological perception theory of James J. Gibson

According to James J. Gibson , most theories of perception lack a) the exact analysis of the information in the environment, b) the consideration of the activity of living beings and c) the specification of the perceptual offerings of the world according to the species-specific nature of the living beings of interest. By examining these aspects, he shows that far more structural information can be obtained from the environment than appears possible in the other conceptions. For example, the three-dimensionality of perception does not have to be constructed from one or more retinal images, but results from the obscuration and uncovering of structures through the movement of a person or animal. The activity of living beings shows that it is not “individual stimuli” that are of central importance, but rather invariants over time and movement. With the concept of the offer, he refers to the fact that with essentially the same physical construction of the eyes, such as a mouse, a person or an elephant, the offers of action of an escalator are perceived very differently.

See also


  • Karl R. Gegenfurtner: Brain & Perception . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-596-15564-9 .
  • James Jerome Gibson: Perception and Environment . Urban & Schwarzenberg, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-541-09931-3 .
  • E. Bruce Goldstein: Perceptual Psychology . 7th German edition. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8274-1766-4 .
  • Rainer Lutz, Norbert Kühne : Promotion of the senses. In: Praxisbuch Sozialpädagogik. Volume 6, Bildungsverlag Eins, Troisdorf 2008, ISBN 978-3-427-75414-5 .
  • Rainer Mausfeld : Perception Psychology. In: A. Schütz, H. Selg, M. Brand, S. Lautenbacher (Eds.): Psychology. An introduction to its basics and fields of application. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2010. (
  • Jochen Müsseler (Ed.): General Psychology. 2nd Edition. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8274-1780-0 .
  • Rainer Schönhammer: Introduction to Perceptual Psychology - Senses, Body, Movement. 2., revised, act. u. extended Edition. facultas.wuv UTB, Vienna 2013, ISBN 978-3-8252-4076-9 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Werner Backhaus: General sensory physiology. In: Neuroscience, From Molecule to Cognition. Springer Textbook, 1996, p. 283.