The Psychology of Perception

This course is open to anyone who has completed PSY 3.

Hot Links

Illusions are not 'magic.' They are a result of how our senses are structured and our brains interpret their input. As you explore the links below, keep asking yourself how and why illusions and other perceptual phenomena occur.


moving bullet Many useful tutorials and links

flashing bullet More useful links and tutorials

flashing bulletA link to Arthur Shapiro's illusion page

flashing bulletLaser eye Not strong on the commentary, but the illusions are fascinating.

flashing bulletDecorative Wall Art contains links to a variety of illusions

flashing bulletA compendium of visual illusions and explanations

Del Mar Fans & Lighting provides some interesting pages that explore visual perception

TED talk on the role of context on colour perception


Our focus is going to be on relating Psychology to Art. The course has lots of demonstrations and internet exercises.

Links to Syllabus:

Psychology 120

Psychology of Perception

Course Instructor: Rhiannon Allen Office Hours: by appt.


Class Times: TU TH 9.30 - 10.45 am

Offered: on occasion

Psychology 120 reviews selected theories of perception as well as certain philosophical questions which bear upon such theories and experimental findings. The development of perceptual processes and personality aspects involved in perceptual processes (e.g., cognitive styles) will also be covered. Thus, periodically, we will deal with questions such as: do the contents of our minds determine what we perceive, or does how and what we perceive determine the contents of our minds?

The course will cover basic scientific findings in perception (e.g., basis of colour vision, audition, the tactile & kinesthetic senses, the chemical senses; phenomena such as categorical perception; techniques of psychophysics). This is necessary because not all of you will have been exposed to Perception as a topic in PSY 3, and because an understanding of the basic perceptual processes (and techniques for understanding them) forms a solid foundation for understanding how humans view the environments in which they function. Because this is a ‘pilot' course for next year's ‘Art and Technology' theme, in every facet of the course, even in discussing basic scientific findings, two themes will be elaborated. I suggest that your term project address one of these themes.

First, it is clear that any detailed understanding of art and aesthetic appreciation must rely on knowledge drawn from studies of the human perceptual systems. For example, an understanding of the perceptual bases of illusion, perspective and complementarity of colours enhances our appreciation of visual art.

Second, throughout the course, the links between ‘fact' and method will be educed. Today's discipline avails itself of techniques adapted from neuroscience, biochemistry, computer science, scaling theory, cognition, cultural studies, and personality. Thus, through this course you will be able to appreciate the interplay amongst art, science and technology, and the human mediator. We will often focus on the relationship between art and the knowledge we have gained about perception.

Required text -

Sekuler, R. & Blake, R. (2002). Perception (4th ed.).  New York: McGraw Hill.

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Responsibilities of the students - Please bring the text to class each day, unless told not to. We will be referring to specific figures and tables in the book. The class meets for just under 3 hours a week. In addition, students are expected to spend a significant amount of time doing their projects, preparing for class, and meeting with their instructor on occasion for individual conferences. Therefore:

1. You are responsible to the group to be at all the class meetings and on time. Attendance will be taken periodically. If you are missed more than 4 times during the taking of attendance, you will given an ‘F' or ‘UW' for the class.

2. Complete all the work for the course on time. One or more ‘assignments' is due each week. Not all assignments are individually graded (see below), but all are necessary to help you learn or for me to know what is going on (e.g., 1st journal on ‘The role of art in my life').

3. Participate in class discussion and take notes in class no matter who is speaking

4. If you are unclear about anything, ASK!

5. Work independently during examinations.

6. Write in your own words at all times, but clearly note sources of information.

7. When asked to submit evaluations of other students' drafts, etc., be prompt, thoughtful & constructive.

Requirements -
Because this course uses a lot of internet demonstrations and tutorials, all students should be able to use a web browser and download plugins. Students who first registered at LIU in Fall 2002 or later are required to provide evidence that they have sat the Core Computer Literacy Requirement examination; otherwise, they will receive an 'Incomplete' until such evidence is provided.

Please note that no ‘Incompletes' will be given without an appropriate excuse. Missing graded assignments/quizzes will be computed as zero (0).

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Tentative Calendar

18 Jan - Introduction:

20 Jan - How is it possible to see?
          - pp. 33-68

25 Jan - The visual system 27 Jan - Basic visual functions 1 Feb - The consequences of two human photoreceptor systems
          Note: Class ends at 10.30 am
3 Feb - Central visual pathways
          - chap. 4

8 & 10 Feb - Visual pattern perception
          - chap. 5

15 Feb - Object perception
          - pp. 235-262

17 Feb & 1 Mar - Color
          - chap. 7

3 & 8 Mar - Making the world 3D: Distance, depth, mass & texture

10 Mar - midterm

22 & 24 Mar - Seeing the world move: Motion, movement, shimmer

29 Mar - Auditory system

 31 Mar- Basic auditory functions  5 Apr - Speech, Mozart and all that
  7 & 12 Apr- The skin & kinaesthetic senses   14 & 19 Apr- Taste & distaste 21 Apr - Behavioral methods
          - Appendix

26 Apr - Normal & abnormal development, with an emphasis on vision

28 Apr - Variation: Cognitive style; cultural & individual factors in pain, person perception, perception of time, etc.; personality factors & temperament

3 May - Review, discussion of course; projects due

5-11 May - Final exam period

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Additional Resources webpage for San Francisco Exploratorium. Use their search function to find relevant demonstrations (face recognition: If you're going to rob a bank, Mona; movement: disappearing act; contrast: graystep), Light Walk, exhibit images (perspective: Ames room). Some programs will work only on certain platforms (e.g., Mac) or with certain applications (e.g., Shockwave)

the following contains some demos & powerpoint slides: Krantz's perception course

The following videos are available in the Library Media room:
Perception: The art of seeing. Has some illusion demonstrations
Perception: The theories. The sections on the Gestalt and Constructivist approaches is good.
Ways of seeing (2 volumes).  A constructivist treatise on perspective, focusing on the impact of the camera on our perception of art.


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Go to Rhiannon Allen's main page

If you have comments or questions, email me at

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