Brain and Behavior

Sensation and Perception

What are association cortices and what role do they play in perception?

The association cortices are the cortical areas that synthesize the fundamental units of sensation into larger patterns and towards a recognizable whole. The visual association cortex is in the occipital lobe, just anterior to the primary visual cortex. The auditory association cortex is in the temporal lobe, close to the primary auditory cortex. The association cortex for touch is next to the somatosensory strip in the parietal cortex, in the brain regions known as S2 and S3.

After sensory information is processed in the unimodal (single sense) association areas, it is sent to the multimodal association areas, where information from different sensory modalities can be coordinated. For example, information about the sight of a chair as well as the sound and the feel of your body as you sit down in it is coordinated into the unified perception of a single object. Simultaneously, activation of the hippocampus and parts of the temporal cortex jog our memory, allowing us to place our perception in the context of our memories. Thus, this particular object is recognized as a chair.

What meets the eye is not always perceived the same from person to person. The external world that people see and hear and touch and smell is interpreted differently as it is filtered through each individual’s emotions, memories, and cognitive processes (iStock).

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