Final Exam for Sensation and Perception

I thought some of my readers might be interested in seeing the final exam I give for my introduction to Sensation and Perception class. I’d welcome any feedback, if people had it.


You are welcome to use your own books, notes, and lecture slides, but do not seek or give help to your classmates on this exam.  I strongly suggest that you start early and give yourself ample time to complete it.  Normally, you might spend a certain amount of time studying, and then take a 3 hour exam.  Since this exam is open book, open notes, and untimed, I would expect it to take that time which would combine studying and taking an exam, which would be considerably longer than 3 hours.  I think allotting 8-9 total hours to complete the exam is likely a good estimate.  You may skip one question, leading to a total of 15 questions.

  1. Why is it not quite accurate to say that we have 5 senses? Pick one of your senses and describe how we might consider it more than one sense. Describe two sensory experiences in which it seems that we are experiencing the same sense, but in fact there are separate biological detectors and pathways in the brain.
  2. Compare the processes of transduction for hearing and for taste.  How are they similar?  How are they different? (2-3 paragraphs)
  3. The first chapter draws the distinction between “perception” and “recognition.”  Describe a time when you “perceived” something without “recognizing” it.  Did you recognize it eventually? Use some of the knowledge you have learned in this class to apply to your recognition process in this case.  (2 paragraphs)
  4. Our perception of color is similar in many ways to our perception of pitch.  Describe at least 4 similarities and 4 differences between these two different perceptual dimensions (and no, the fact that one is seen and the other is heard does not count as a difference).    Focus on both the physical qualities of the energy in the world, as well as the biological and psychological aspects of the sensations and perceptions. (3-4 paragraphs)
  5. Watch the video of the cheetah running here:  Describe the optic flow field for this cheetah. Why might it be advantageous to the cheetah (considering again the optic flow field) to hold its head as steady as it does? Compare the optic flow field of the cheetah running to that of a human running. What might be different between the two? Use elements of the optic flow field from the book and those that you’ve learned in class.
  6. Take the Magic School Bus book and make your own set of full facing pages (two pages in the book).  They should include two little lined notebook pages, with fun facts, and text in the style of the rest of the book.  To give you some idea, I think we have covered a fair amount between pages 15 and 17 (more on rods and cones, or receptor activity in the retina) that you could fill in, or after page 19 (depth perception?  Object perception?), or you could fill in our spatial localization of sounds (the headphones and ringing bells demonstration), or something on speech.  You get the idea.  I would prefer that you draw yourself, but you are welcome to use computer collage techniques, but do not simply cut and paste from the textbook.  I won’t grade on your artistic ability, but I want you to put some thought into summarizing what you know on a topic and putting it into an accessible and fun format.
  7. Draw a figure explaining how lateral inhibition leads to Mach bands.  Draw a neural diagram that would NOT result in our perception of Mach bands.   Which two kinds of cells in the retina, if removed, would lead to a reduction of lateral inhibition?  (2 drawings, and two words)
  8. Why is the sky blue? Without getting into more detail than the physics of light that we have described in class, why do we see the sky as blue? Describe the wavelengths of light and the relative activity of photoreceptors. How is this related to the pictorial depth cue of atmospheric perspective?
  9. Pick a photograph from the National Geographic Photo Contest at the following website: or from the selections at this website: For this photograph pick four (4) pictorial depth cues and describe how they help to arrange the objects in depth. Also, describe the depth of field in the photograph, how depth of field is changed in a camera, and how it is different for our eyes (2 paragraphs)
  10. Pick another photograph from one of those sites and describe how 4 Gestalt principles of perceptual organization apply to specific elements of the photograph. (1 paragraph, at least 4 sentences)
  11. In one movie clip shown in class describing an experiment by Dan Simons, an unknowing participant was asked for directions.  While they were giving the directions, the person listening to the directions was changed, and the directions-giver did not notice.  This video shows another example of inattentional blindness .  Can you explain this referring to the relative density of cones in the fovea (how tightly the cones are packed) vs. the peripheral retina?   If you can, explain using the density of cones in the fovea.  If not, explain why this happens.
  12. Describe your Thanksgiving dinner, in terms of taste, smell, and flavor.  First, start with the preparation.  How do the smells go from the cooking in the kitchen to your nose, and then to your brain? (describe the pathway in one paragraph)   When you sit down to eat, how do the foods activate your taste buds?   Can you account for the flavor of the food just by the activity of the taste buds?  Let’s say that there is a special family recipe that uses hot sauce to flavor the stuffing.  What kind of receptor activity accounts for the spicy flavor of the stuffing?
  13. Watch the following video:  Describe how this video was made (you may google, but also use concepts covered in class).  Is this real motion?  Is anything on TV motion?  How is this video similar to a normal TV show, in terms of the process of visual perception of motion? (2-3 paragraphs)
  14. Below is an illusion of brightness.  The front face of the words “black” and “white” are each the same color (they are shown to the right without the rest of the picture).  How does this illusion work?  You may want to make a drawing and refer to luminance, illumination, and reflectance.
  15. What was your favorite demonstration, movie, or activity from the class?  How did the particular aspects of this demonstration illustrate the relevant concept (please be specific)?
  16. Briefly describe what you learned from your favorite student presentation.   What made this presentation or topic particularly interesting or memorable?  (1 paragraph – 5-6 sentences)

About Cedar Riener

College psychology professor, husband, father.
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12 Responses to Final Exam for Sensation and Perception

  1. Sanjay Srivastava says:

    Cool exam! A purely philosophical question in response to #1: If in response to 2 different stimuli someone has the same phenomenological experience, but the responses involve 2 distinctly different neural pathways, are they 2 senses or 1? (I’d argue that they’re 1 — in the same way that 2+2 is the same mathematical operation whether I do it on my calculator or my abacus. But I’m no philosopher so I’m probably wrong.)

    • Cedar Riener says:

      Good question! And once you start really questioning it, it is kind of arbitrary what we call a sense (wasn’t it you and I talking about essentialism a while ago?). Further, the closer you look at the brain, the less clean, linear and separable those “neural pathways” look.
      First, though, I think I agree with you that they would be considered the same sense.
      I think I would also answer by dodging (why do I always feel this way about philosophical questions?) and saying that it depends on what we mean by “same phenomenological experience.” Let’s say we took pain – we can experience pain from nociceptor activity, but we can also experience the same kind of pain that is clearly not nociceptor activity (in the case of phantom limb pain). There is also the case of synesthesia. Do we count their combinations of senses as “additional” senses?
      In general, though, what this question is really asking is about distinct phenomenological experiences that we nonetheless group (mostly through language) as the same. Like different kinds of pain and touch, which are represented by different receptors (hence the “biological detectors”).

      • Sanjay Srivastava says:

        I was afraid you were going to call me out on “same phenomenological experience.” My first crack at it ends with “life is a near-infinite succession of unique sensory experiences, and ‘senses’ are just categories we make up for them.” That doesn’t seem right. That’s probably why I’m not a philosopher.

        Then there’s the whole functionalist angle (as in James, Dewey, etc.). I think they’d say that trying to break down sensation into component parts in this way misses a lot of important stuff — like how getting punched in the arm by a friend is a wholly different experience than getting punched in the arm by a bully, even if it’s the same force applied, same receptors firing, etc. Without accounting for the organism’s prior experience, goals, context, etc. you can’t get at the heart of what sensation really is.

  2. Not knowing the complete list of outcomes of the course I cannot, of course, comment on its validity. I can say, though, that the questions are such that a broad range of responses are possible–for all. That should give you ample opportunity to explore the degree to which your students can apply the concepts you have exposed them too. Better, though–I believe the questions are such that students should have the opportunity to move to so-called ‘higher-order’ thinking. The one fear I have is that the level of divergence may leave you with, at times, a very difficult task of judging the quality of responses. The task of, for example, setting rubrics to these questions would be very daunting. Perhaps now that you have been open enough to share them with colleagues, some may return the favour by sharing work samples or, perhaps, appropriate rubrics/scoring guides.
    On a personal note–I find the questions very interesting and have actually bookmarked this one for a future visit or two.

    • Cedar Riener says:

      These are good points, and the rest of the assessments in the class (quizzes, exams, projects) have more clear rubrics and straightforward grading. In this exam, I sacrifice a little of the ease and clarity of grading for it being interesting and provocative of higher order thinking, as you say. They tend not to use the feedback given on final exams anyways, so I don’t worry about that part. But you can see through to their understanding of the concepts, and I rarely get students complaining about grades on these sorts of exams.
      Glad to hear you have enjoyed them. Maybe I’ll post an answer key in a little while.

  3. I’ve been known to give exams like this too, though sometimes I differ in approach just a bit. I’ve given lists of essay prompts similar to yours, but a list that is a bit longer (about 25 questions total), I give them a week to study and prepare answers, and on exam day I select from that list a more manageable set, but always in pairs so that they can choose (i.e., choose two from the following 4; for three sets). That way they can prepare broadly, they get some choice in what they answer, but by grouping questions into sets, everyone addresses the same general array of content. When I do that, I use a combination of criterion and normative grading: I read all the answers to question 1 at once, sorting into categories based on the degree to which each student answered like I expected. I compare them to each other too though, leaving room for individual variation in approach hinted at above by mauriceaberry. Those kinds of exams take eons to score, but students never complain about “fairness”. When I do the full-on take home approach, of late I’ve done more applied projects. I given them a set of social issues to choose from (or sometimes I have them find their own), then a list of topics from the class I want them to incorporate into a hypothetical “plan” that could feasibly work to address the social issue. I really like these assignments – they freak students out at first, but once they get started in outlining their plans, they tend to enjoy the process. These assignments really help me better sort out the students who are good memorizers from those who more deeply understand the material, so in the end I think the assigned grades really do reflect degree/depth of learning. And they are fun to read, too. The list of essays approach works well for my Cog Psy classes, but for Child Development and Cog Sci I tend to use the social issue approach.

    Good luck to your students with your current exam! Happy reading.

    • Cedar Riener says:

      Yeah, I do ones like that too. I’m also a big fan of grading one question at a time.
      The social issue projects sound great. I am still working on including those in some of my other classes, but probably not in S&P. Although I do have ideas about getting the kids to either share their modifications to Magic School Bus with actual school kids, or designing a presentation on their topic for elementary school kids.

  4. speculatia says:

    Will you share responses to question 16 with the students who made the presentations?

  5. Pingback: One heck of a final exam! | Education by Credo

  6. susan says:

    hey please may i get the answers to this questions

  7. Paidamoyo says:

    these are good questions but they are a bit long you may change them so that they can be short and straight to the point

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