MCAT Monday: Processing the Environment - Sensory Perception

Updated: Mar 1


Foundational Concept 6: Biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors influence the ways that individuals perceive, think about, and react to the world. All sensory processing begins with first detecting a stimulus in the environment through sensory cells, receptors, and biological pathways.


After collecting sensory information, we then interpret and make sense of it. Although sensation and perception are distinct functions, they are both influenced by psychological, social, and biological factors and therefore become almost indistinguishable in practice. This complexity is illuminated by examining human sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. (via AAMC)


The Sensory Perception section of Processing the Environment overview has videos on

Practice Problems:

1. Clinicians will see large amounts of data (labs results, patient symptoms, etc) over the course of their practice, and their brains will subconsciously group that data along certain established principles. Awareness of this underlying mechanism will help clinicians identify potential bias and provide better care. Which of the following best explains the Gestalt principles of grouping?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Reality is reduced to its simplest form

  • B: The whole is more than the sum of its parts

  • C: The mind processes the whole rather than the sum of its parts

  • D: Invariance, reification, and multistability are necessary to understanding perception

2. Which of the following best exemplifies the Gestalt principles of grouping?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: A patient with the flu thinking they have meningitis because the symptoms are similar.

  • B: A hospital breaking up departments into Cardiology, Infectious Disease, etc.

  • C: A medical student scheduling classes in the morning and labs in the afternoon.

  • D: A doctor making a diagnosis based on all of the symptoms a patient presents with.

3. Meningitis and the flu share many early symptoms. Which of the following could explain why a doctor could misdiagnose meningitis as the flu during flu season?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Bottom-up information processing

  • B: High signal detection threshold for meningitis

  • C: Low just noticeable difference

  • D: Gestalt principle of similarity

4. Repeated administration of some drugs will lead to a decrease in their effectiveness, an occurrence known as drug tolerance. When this occurs, doctors may need to increase the dosage in order to continue therapy. What is true of this increase?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Drugs of a certain type will exhibit the same drug tolerance rates

  • B: The dosage will increase by the same amount each time the patient reaches tolerance

  • C: The dosage increase is directly proportional to the initial dose

  • D: The increase in dosage will be the same for different patients

5. A diagnostic test is developed for a potentially fatal disease. In order to effectively treat the disease, those diagnosed with it must immediately be placed on a costly and poorly tolerated medication. Which threshold should be used for this test? Choose 1 answer:


  • A: A – a liberal strategy which would make sure everyone with the disease was treated

  • B: B – an ideal observer strategy to try to minimize both false positives and false negatives.

  • C: C – an arbitrary threshold to get the majority of disease cases while minimizing false positives

  • D: D – a conservative strategy which would eliminate false positives

6. Diplopia is the scientific term for double vision, a condition in which the patient perceives two images of the same entity, usually displaced horizontally or vertically. Which of the following perceptual cues is most affected by diplopia?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Binocular disparity

  • B: Motion parallax

  • C: Interposition

  • D: Convergence

7. Which of the following is an example of sensory desensitization?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Drinking too much alcohol and vomiting

  • B: Getting used to a smell after being around it for hours

  • C: Receiving myadriatic eye drops at the optometrist to dilate the eyes

  • D: Eating too much and feeling queasy at the thought of food

8. A patient is experiencing chest pain and sees several specialists. The cardiologist is worried about a heart attack and orders an echocardiogram, while the pulmonologist orders a lung capacity test. What perceptual organization principles are these doctors exhibiting?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Top-down processing

  • B: Bottom-up processing

  • C: Gestalt law of pragnanz

  • D: Gestalt law of continuity

9. Which of the following would trigger high frequency firing from a non-adapting mechanoreceptor? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Accidentally touching a hot stove

  • B: Getting lemon juice on a paper cut

  • C: Tripping on the curb and stumbling

  • D: Walking into a lamp post


10. This image best demonstrates what idea about perception? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Gestalt law of proximity

  • B: Relative size monocular cue for depth

  • C: Gestalt law of pragnanz

  • D: Size constancy monocular cue for depth

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