Sensation, Perception, and the Aging Process

Course No. 1546
Professor Francis B. Colavita, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh
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Course No. 1546
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Course Overview

Why is it that we react to the world the way we do, not only in similar ways—turning our heads in the direction of a tap on the shoulder or a sudden movement in our peripheral vision, for example—but often in dramatically different ways as well?

What causes us to gasp in startled fear at sharp sound that our spouse, even though blessed with excellent hearing, appears to barely notice? Why do children twist their faces in disgust when asked to sample the smallest bite of their parents' most recent culinary addiction? How is it that the physically adventurous young person you remember being—the one whose greatest passion was riding the scariest roller coaster imaginable—somehow grew into an adult whose stomach begins to churn nervously at even the thought of such a ride?

The answer, of course, is that each of us—whether a different person or a more recent model of ourselves—isn't reacting to the same world at all.

Though the physical world we occupy may be identical, the reality we experience —the perceptions created when our brains combine the input from our senses with past encounters with those same inputs—is very different. And this is true not only from one person to another, but within the same individual, as well. For our various sensory systems can be altered over time, their acuity changing in response to aging or injury, life experiences, evolving personalities, and other factors.

Rich in science and potent examples and anecdotes, Sensation, Perception, and the Aging Process is a course that takes a distinct approach to the understanding of human behavior—which is, after all, always a reaction to a sensory stimulus.

Learn How We Navigate and Make Sense of Our World

In 24 fascinating lectures, Professor Francis Colavita offers a biopsychological perspective on the way we humans navigate and react to the world around us in a process that is ever-changing. Our experiences are vastly different today than they were when we were children and our senses and brains were still developing; and those experiences are becoming ever more different as we age, when natural changes alert us to the need to compensate, often in ways that are quite positive.

For example, children have many more taste receptors than adults, so they are more taste sensitive. Therefore it's both ironic and understandable that children often prefer bland food drawn from a small list of favorites to avoid being overwhelmed. Adults, on the other hand, lose taste receptors as they age, so getting older often moves us in the opposite direction, prompting us to try new varieties of ethnic cuisines and spicier foods.

One of the delights of this course is the balance of the real-life examples Professor Colavita gives and the crisp presentation of the physiological systems that explain those examples.

How do our sensory systems gather and process raw information from the world, enabling us to see, hear, smell, taste, or touch? How do we keep our balance? Or understand exactly where we are in space, so that we can reach for our morning coffee cup and not close our hands around empty space?

How do our bodies create motor memories that allow us to learn and then automatically perform the most complex tasks—such as the laboriously practiced elements of a golf swing—in one smoothly executed motion, or run through a series of rapid gear shifts while driving on a winding mountain road?

What sort of sensory system allows us to feel pain but also works to protect us from its most intense levels?

Whether exploring the complex structures of the brain or inner ear, explaining with compassion the animal experiments that have given us so much knowledge of sensory systems, or using humorous personal anecdotes to illustrate a point, Professor Colavita delivers a course that informs, entertains, and even prepares us for the changes that lie ahead.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Sensation, Perception, and Behavior
    In addition to presenting an overview of the course, this lecture offers a brief introduction to psychology in general and Behaviorism in particular. It distinguishes between the physical, sensory, and perceptual worlds and introduces the distinction between a sensation and a perception. x
  • 2
    Sensation and Perception—A Distinction
    We learn that the brain is the organ of perception. Beginning in infancy, experiences stored in our brains determine the meanings that sensory events will have for us and that shape our behavior. x
  • 3
    Vision—Stimulus and the Optical System
    We begin learning how our sensory systems do their job of transducing energy from the physical world into language the brain understands—electrochemical activity—starting with the visual system. x
  • 4
    Vision—The Retina
    This lecture explains the contributions that rods and cones—the human retina's two types of receptors—make to normal vision, including visual acuity and sensitivity. x
  • 5
    Vision—Beyond the Optic Nerve
    We look at the role played by the visual information processing centers of the brain in orienting and reacting to objects in space; identifying those objects; and determining their shape, form, color, and size. We also explore the consequences of damage to these processing centers. x
  • 6
    Vision—Age-Related Changes
    This lecture describes how the supporting structures, receptors, and neural elements of the visual system undergo progressive physical changes related to the aging process, and how, as a consequence of these changes, vision is affected in predictable ways as we grow older. x
  • 7
    Hearing—Stimulus and Supporting Structures
    What we call sound is the brain's response to small, rapid, in-and-out movements of the eardrums produced by pressure variations in air molecules. We examine how the supporting structures of the outer and inner ear begin the hearing process. x
  • 8
    Hearing—The Inner Ear
    This lecture explains how the transduction process is accomplished by the auditory receptors, known as hair cells, as well as the difference between the two mechanisms by which sounds from the environment reach those cells. x
  • 9
    Hearing—Age-Related Changes
    We look at several causes of age-related hearing loss, including changes in the ear canal and eardrum, degeneration of the temporal bone, reduced electrical output in the cochlea, progressive death of hair cells, and degeneration of the auditory nerve. x
  • 10
    The Cutaneous System—Receptors, Pathways
    Experimental examination of our skin sense goes back more than 150 years, but the workings—and importance—of the cutaneous system turn out to be significantly more complicated than those original experiments suggested. x
  • 11
    The Cutaneous System—Early Development
    This lecture presents an overview of the research indicating the importance of cutaneous stimulation—especially tactile stimulation—to normal growth and development. x
  • 12
    The Cutaneous System—Age-Related Changes
    Although there are decreases in cutaneous sensitivity that come with age, most have little effect on normal daily living. In fact, tactile stimulation is as important to young and old adults as it is to infants and children. x
  • 13
    Pain—Early History
    Although we learn more each year about pain, many aspects of the topic still remain a puzzle, for example, "good pain" versus "bad pain," the placebo effect, and cultural conditioning. x
  • 14
    Pain—Acupuncture, Endorphins, and Aging
    This second lecture on pain examines a once-controversial technique, explores a possible explanation for its effectiveness, and looks at how age affects our ability to feel different kinds of pain. x
  • 15
    Taste—Stimulus, Structures, and Receptors
    This introduction to the subject of taste looks at how the body gathers taste-related sensory data and why we have natural preferences for certain tastes. x
  • 16
    Taste—Factors Influencing Preferences
    In general, people are born with the same innate taste preferences. Yet by adulthood, people around the world have such different taste preferences that it is difficult to believe those preferences were ever similar. We look at why this is so. x
  • 17
    Smell—The Unappreciated Sense
    When asked which of their senses they would miss the least, many people choose smell. As this lecture shows, however, smell is far more important for humans than we realize. x
  • 18
    Smell—Consequences of Anosmia
    What would it mean to lose the sense of smell? Research findings show the impact might be greater than we imagine. x
  • 19
    The Vestibular System—Body Orientation
    In studying this little-known system, we learn about the components of the inner ear that the body depends upon to respond to and identify changes in our position in space. x
  • 20
    The Kinesthetic Sense—Motor Memory
    Although often referred to as "muscle memory," our kinesthetic sense is much more. It sends to the brain continuous sensory feedback from receptors located not only in the muscles but also in our tendons, ligaments, and joints. x
  • 21
    Brain Mechanisms and Perception
    Evolution has not replaced the older parts of our brain but has simply added new parts. The old ones retain their original functions, while our higher mental processes, including perception, reside in our newest part, the cerebral cortex. x
  • 22
    Perception of Language
    Language is made up of verbal auditory stimuli that have become charged with meaning. It is so critical to humans that it occupies two areas of the brain, one for producing speech and one for comprehending it. x
  • 23
    The Visual Agnosias
    The complex way different "visual association areas" in the brain allow it to integrate sensory data and memory into visual images can occasionally produce extraordinary kinds of deficits. x
  • 24
    Perception of Other People/Course Summary
    This final lecture describes some factors in how we perceive other people and presents a general summary of the course. Finally, it looks at current research and trends in the field of sensation and perception. x

Lecture Titles

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Video DVD
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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 136-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 136-page printed course guidebook
  • Diagrams
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Francis B. Colavita

About Your Professor

Francis B. Colavita, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh
Francis Colavita (1939–2009) was an Emeritus Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught for more than 40 years. He also held an adjunct faculty position at Florida Atlantic University. He earned his BA in Experimental Psychology from the University of Maryland and his PhD in Physiological Psychology from the University of Indiana. He went on to complete a two-year postdoctoral...
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Sensation, Perception, and the Aging Process is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 62.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Information This course was different than I had thought it would be. But the information was fantastic. Lots of information of the sensation and perception systems of our bodies. The instructor kept things interesting with real life stories.
Date published: 2020-02-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Data analyzed Dr Colavito's lectures provide a clear, concise and fascinating set of lectures that plainly explain the differences between sensations and how we perceive (interpret) those sensations. Most of the lectures deal with the physiology of how we collect data via our sensory 'organs' (eyes, nose, fingers, etc.)...breaking down how these organs work. This takes up 20 of the 24 lectures. The last three or four lectures touch on how the sensations are transmitted to the brain and how different parts of the brain break down the sensations into perceptions. The good professor clearly points out that our perceptions might not always reflect reality (that's the job of our sensations), but rather reflect our interpretation of those sensations based upon our prior experiences with those stimuli. Another aspect of the course, one in which is incorporated into the title, is how sensations and their perceptions are influenced by the aging process. Well, no surprise here! As we age our sensational organs become less efficient...we see more poorly, hear less well, and often forget our Right Guard. But what about our we transition smoothly from 'wise guy' to 'wise man'...or does our brain deteriorate along with our senses? Or maybe it's a little of both. Good set of lectures...I like the kind that make you think...and have a bit of humor sprinkled in just for the fun of it. Review the course's pretty good. I thought the audio version was great...but since I didn't watch the video, I have no way of knowing which would be the better choice. I do know that this set is often on sale, and coupons can only add to that pleasant sensation of knowing that you saved some money.
Date published: 2019-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from useful gained much insight into relevant & meaningful matters
Date published: 2019-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very clear and Concise explanations. This Professor is very good at explaining concepts in a structured manner, so that they are easy to understand and remember. He seemed a little nervous at first, but that just made him seem more likeable.
Date published: 2018-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I learned so much from this course! Even though this course was recorded over a decade ago, the material was excellent. I learned so much about how we sense and perceive the world around us. I also learned what changes I should expect as I age.
Date published: 2018-09-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much physiology information I was expecting more practical application about how perception works. More time could have been spent on that instead of the makeup of the senses for me to appreciate.
Date published: 2018-07-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent information I enjoyed the information that Dr. Colavita presents. I was, however bothered by watching him shift from one foot to the other while presenting. It is distracting.
Date published: 2018-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good description iof the normql aging proces I have Parkinson's Disease (PD) and wanted to know what aging effects were normal and what effects could be attrikbuted to PD. This course gives me the baseline of normal agin g effects to enable mre to determine what effects are being caused by the PD.
Date published: 2018-06-10
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