PSY 3300: Perception

Mechanisms and models of perceptual systems

Fall 2018

Course Information

Course Description

This course is an introduction to perception, the study of how humans and animals gather, process, and organize sensory information from the environment, primarily focusing on auditory and visual perception. We will examine these topics from multiple perspectives, including the behavioral, computational, and neural mechanisms underlying perceptual systems. A major goal of this course is to expose students to different models, theoretical approaches, and debates in the field. To that end, we will read several original research articles on these topics and discuss them in class, in addition to other readings for the course.


By taking this course, you will gain:

  1. Knowledge of the mechansism invovled in sensation and perception
  2. Exposure to current debates, models, and theories about how humans and animals perceive the world
  3. Practice reading and discussing original research articles on these topics

Course Materials

Required textbook: Wolfe JM, Kluender KR, Levi DM, et al. (2015). Sensation & Perception. Sinauer: Sunderland, MA. ISBN 978-1-60535-211-4.

Previous editions of this textbook are also acceptable. These can often be found online at a significantly reduced price! Additional readings will be posted on the course website (i.e., this website). See the schedule below for a list of readings.

Course Requirements

Point Breakdown

Component Points % of Final Grade
Exam 1 80 pts 20%
Exam 2 80 pts 20%
Final Exam 160 pts 40%
Paper 40 pts 10%
Participation/Experts 40 pts 10%


There will be a total of three exams during the semester, including a cumulative final exam. Each midterm is worth 20% of your grade, and the final is worth 40%. The goal of the exams is to evaluate your ability to understand the basic concepts covered in the course and apply the principles of sensation and perception you have learned. As such, the exam questions will focus more on broad concepts than on specific facts. Questions will be drawn primarily from the material presented in lecture and discussion, as well as from material presented in the textbook and original research articles.

Exams will not be administered prior to the scheduled date. Do not miss an exam unless it is absolutely necessary. You may request to take a make-up exam if you have an authorized university absence. The University's official Attendance Policy lists the following excused absences: "approved athletic participation or participation in approved academic events; official university business; approved field trips; certified serious illness; death in the immediate family; or approved placement activities". Please speak to me in person if you have an authorized absence that requires you to make-up a scheduled exam.

For each exam, you may have one sheet of handwritten notes (one side of one piece of paper). You can put anything you'd like on your note sheet, but each student must write their own. I will collect these with the exams and return them with the graded exams. Please use the note sheet as a study tool to help you organize you thoughts. Students often tell me that it ends up being more helpful when studying than during the actual exam!


You will write a short paper on a topic in perception, which is worth 10% of the class grade. Details for the assignment will be given in the schedule.

Discussion Experts and Participation

We will read several original research articles and discuss them together in class. It is important that you do the readings before each class and participate in the class discussion. In addition, each student will be a member of an "Experts" group who will lead the discussion of a research article about the day's topic. The members of the group should come to class prepared to lead a discussion on the findings from the article.

Group members do not need to meet before class, nor do they need to necessarily consult with each other about the article we are discussing (but you are welcome to do this if you want!). Instead, each student should be prepared to lead the discussion of the article, understanding the hypotheses put forth, the approach used, and the results, as well as how the data fit with one or more broader theories of perception. Each member of the group should contribute to presenting their thoughts and guiding the discussion in class. Everyone else is encouraged to participate in the discussion as well. If you have questions about the articles, please let me know before class so we can meet and clear up anything you're not sure about (this is particularly important if you are one of our Experts for that topic).

Grading Scale

Grades will be based on the percentage of points earned on exams and homework assignments; grades will not be determined on the basis of a curve.

A-...90.00-93.32% A...>93.32%
B-...80.00-83.32% B...83.33-86.66% B+...86.67-89.99%
C-...70.00-73.32% C...73.33-76.66% C+...76.67-79.99%
D-...60.00-63.32% D...63.33-66.66% D+...66.67-69.99%

Course Policies

Standard Villanova Course Policies

Course-specific Policies

Course Schedule

Date Topic Readings Deadlines/Notes
8/27 Introduction Beck (2018)
8/29 Psychophysics Wolfe, Ch. 1 (Thresholds and Psychophysics)
9/3 No class (Labor Day)
9/5 Psychophysics (continued) Article discussion (Boutis et al., 2010) Experts 1
9/10 Audition Wolfe, Ch. 9 (all sections)
9/12 Audition (continued) Wolfe, Ch. 10 (Complex Sounds section)
9/17 Speech Perception Wofle, Ch. 11 (Speech section)
9/19 Speech Perception (continued)
9/24 Sound Localization Article discussion (McGurk & Macdonald, 1976);
Wolfe, Ch. 10 (Sound Localization section)
Experts 2
9/26 Music Perception (Guest lecture) Wofle, Ch. 11 (Music section)
10/1 Catch-up/Exam Review
10/3 EXAM 1
10/8 Low-level Vision Wolfe, Ch. 2 (all sections)
10/10 Low-level Vision (continued) Wolfe, Ch. 3 (all sections); Hubel & Wiesel video
10/15 No class (Fall break)
10/17 No class (Fall break)
10/22 Mid- and High-level Vision Wolfe, Ch. 4 (all sections)
10/24 Mid- and High-level Vision (continued) Article discussion (Mathewson, 2018) Experts 3
10/29 Color Perception Wolfe, Ch. 5 (Basic Principles, Steps 1, 2, and 3; Individual Differences; From Color of Lights to World of Color)
10/31 Depth Perception Wolfe, Ch. 6 (Monocular Cues; Binocular Vision; Combining Depth Cues)
11/5 Visual attention Wolfe, Ch. 7 (Selection in Space; Visual Search; Perceiving and Understanding Scenes)
11/7 Top-down Effects (Guest lecture)
11/12 Catch-up/Exam Review
11/14 No class (Toscano away)
Watch one (or more!) of the APCAM 2018 talks on Thursday 11/15
Schedule of presentations
11/19 EXAM 2
11/21 No class (Thanksgiving break)
Other Sensory Systems
11/26 Vestibular System Wolfe, Ch. 12 (sections: Vestibular Contributions, Modalities and Qualities, Mammalian Vestibular System, Sensory Integration, Reflexive Vestibular Responses)
11/28 Tactile Perception Wolfe, Ch. 13 (sections: Touch Physiology, Tactile Sensitivity, Haptic Perception) Paper due
12/3 Olfaction and Gustation Wolfe, Ch. 14 (sections: Olfactory Physiology, Chemicals to Smells, Olfactory Psychophysics), Ch. 15 (sections: Taste vs. Flavor, Anatomy and Physiology, Four Basic Tastes, Genetic Variation)
12/5 Cross-modal Perception (Guest lecture)
12/10 Cross-modal Perception (continued) Article discussion (North, 2011) Experts 4
12/12 Catch-up/Final Exam Review
12/20 8:30-11:00am FINAL EXAM (cumulative)

Last updated by J. Toscano, 20-Aug-2018