Stimuli, the Perceiver, and Perception

  • William Bevan
  • Susan Gaylord
Part of the Perception and Perceptual Development book series (PPD, volume 1)


Virtually every boy who has grown up in a cold climate has had the experience of warming his hands after making snowballs by holding them in water from the cold water tap. Nearly everyone who has been ill with a high fever has noted how cool the hand of the examining physician or nurse feels. And certainly everybody has observed that a flashlight which shines brightly at night will appear dim during daylight, if indeed it is seen at all. These experiences are examples of successive thermal contrast and simultaneous brightness contrast, two of the phenomena with which this chapter is concerned. They illustrate the very important fact that the appearance of a stimulus (the water, the hand, the light) depends not only on its physical intensity but also on the intensity of its immediately surrounding area as well as on that of stimuli immediately previously experienced. As the cold hand approaches the temperature of the tap water, the tap water will cease to feel warm. When it equals that of the tap water no temperature sensation will be experienced at all. And if the hand is further warmed by being placed in water from the hot water tap, water from the cold water tap will then feel cold. These changes in experience illustrate two important psychological principles, namely that perception is relative and depends on some psychological referent or base line and that these psychological base lines change with experience over time.


Experimental Psychology Adaptation Level Training Stimulus Anchor Effect Series Stimulus 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Bevan
    • 1
  • Susan Gaylord
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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