Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section: Content Category 6A

Sensing the environment
Psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors affect our sensation and perception of the world. All sensory processing begins with first detecting a stimulus in the environment through sensory cells, receptors, and biological pathways.

After collecting sensory information, we then interpret and make sense of it. Although sensation and perception are distinct functions, they are both influenced by psychological, social, and biological factors and therefore become almost indistinguishable in practice. This complexity is illuminated by examining human sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

The content in this category covers sensation and perception across all human senses.

Topic Level Key:

The abbreviations found in parentheses indicate the course(s) in which undergraduate students at many colleges and universities learn about the topics and associated subtopics. The course abbreviations are:

PSY: one semester of introductory psychology
BIO: two-semester sequence of introductory biology

Please note topics that appear on multiple content lists will be treated differently. Questions will focus on the topics as they are described in the narrative for the content category.

Sensory Processing (PSY, BIO)

  • Sensation
    • Threshold
    • Weber’s Law (PSY)
    • Signal detection theory (PSY)
    • Sensory adaptation
    • Psychophysics
  • Sensory receptors
    • Sensory pathways
    • Types of sensory receptor

Vision (PSY, BIO)

  • Structure and function of the eye
  • Visual processing
    • Visual pathways in the brain
    • Parallel processing (PSY)
    • Feature detection (PSY)

Hearing (PSY, BIO)

  • Structure and function of the ear
  • Auditory processing (e.g., auditory pathways in the brain)
  • Sensory reception by hair cells

Other Senses (PSY, BIO)

  • Somatosensation (e.g., pain perception)
  • Taste (e.g., taste buds/chemoreceptors that detect specific chemicals)
  • Smell
    • Olfactory cells/chemoreceptors that detect specific chemicals
    • Pheromones (BIO)
    • Olfactory pathways in the brain (BIO)
  • Kinesthetic sense (PSY)
  • Vestibular sense

Perception (PSY)

  • Bottom-up/Top-down processing
  • Perceptual organization (e.g., depth, form, motion, constancy)
  • Gestalt principles

To support your studies, see the following video tutorials below from the Khan Academy MCAT Collection. The videos and associated questions were created by the Khan Academy in collaboration with the AAMC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.