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Understanding the Sensory System and its Role in Behavioral Development Essay

The sensory system is a fundamental part of an organism’s adaptation to its environment. It has an effect on one’s growth and development and his response to various situations. Behavior involves responding to or interacting with the environment. Three types of structure which affect behavior are receptors which are found in the sense organs, neural conduction and integration mechanisms from the nervous system and the effectors which are the muscles and glands (Seeley, Stephens, and Tate. 2006).

Before behavior can take place, there should be an input such as information or stimulation from the sense organs, processing of this input and a flow of output messages to the muscles which are all functions of the nervous system (Lewis, 2005). This complex system of nerves and nerve networks organizes and controls the ways in which we receive, deal with and respond to information from our environment.

Sense perception relies on sensory receptors that react to different stimuli.  Once a stimulus elicits an impulse in a receptor, the action potentials move to the cerebral cortex, where they are sorted out and deciphered.  As soon as this takes place a specific sensation is observed.  There are two classifications of senses: (a) General/somatic senses, for instance, of touch, pressure, vibration, temperature and pain can be located throughout the body; (b) special senses such as of sight, smell, taste and hearing, have their specific receptors contained and limited in a specific part (Seeley, Stephens, and Tate. 2006).

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Sensory Components

According to Seeley, Stephens, and Tate (2006), reception and perception are the two components of sensory experience. Sensory reception is the means of obtaining information from inside or outside the environment through the senses which consists of visual or by seeing, auditory / hearing, olfactory/smell, gustatory or by taste and tactile/touch; then converts them into a meaningful information and results into perception. Previous experiences, acquired knowledge and manner have an effect on how information will be perceived (Smith, 2000).

            Perceptual development involves both physical maturation and learning. Certain perceptual abilities are either innate or developed shortly after birth; whereas others require particular kinds of experiences in order to develop. There appears to be a critical periods for the development of certain perceptual abilities. Visual deprivation studies, manipulation of visual input and studies of restored vision have shown that the normal biological development of the perceptual system depends upon certain sensory experiences (Dennison, 2007).

            Smith (2000) discussed interesting and important facets of the relationship between perception and learning:

(1) Several theorists have pointed out the reinforcing (response-strengthening) role of perception. Reinforcement, more popularly translated as “reward,” is considered by many to be a key factor in learning. Thus, perception becomes one of the determinants of learning. Organisms are motivated to perceive or more broadly, to know. Hence, perception is intrinsically rewarding.

(2) What we perceive, especially under consistent or chronic conditions, seems to somehow incorporate within our personal value systems. That is we tend to learn the standards that we experience. For example, the crucial role of the religious and social standards to which one has been exposed provides guidelines that bias subsequent behavior, including perceptual processes.

            Experiments with rats exposed to certain geometric figures in their home cages (1982) demonstrated the importance of perceptual familiarity in learning. The experimental rats were found to be superior in discrimination learning when these figures were used as cues. Thus, the generalization suggested that perception familiarity produces superior learning (cited in Sevilla, Punsalan, Rovira and Vendivel, 2002).


Dennison, R. (2007). Integrative and Comparative Biology. Oxford Journals. 6. 368-370

Lewis, C.S. (2005). The Complexities and Eccentricities of Our Sensory System. Neuron

Journal.  48. 33-35

Seeley, A., Stephens, J., and Tate, T. (3rd Ed.). (2006). Essentials of Human Anatomy and

Physiology. New York, New York. Bantam Dell

Sevilla, Punsalan, Rovira and Vendivel. (3rd Ed.). (2002) General Psychology with Values

Formation Development Lessons. Rex Bookstore Inc.

Smith, J. (5th Ed.). (2000). Human Anatomy and Physiology. Rochester, New York.

 Lippincott Williams and Wilkins

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