Absolute Threshold: Examples & Definition

  • 0:01 Absolute Threshold Defined
  • 1:12 Examples of Absolute Threshold
  • 2:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Cobarrubias
In this lesson, we'll talk about what absolute threshold is and explore some examples of absolute threshold for the human senses - specifically for vision and hearing. In the end, test your knowledge with a quiz.

Absolute Threshold Defined

Have you ever heard the story of the Pea and the Princess? In this fairy tale, a prince is seeking a princess to take for his wife and, as luck would have it, a young woman claiming to be a princess seeks shelter from the rain at his castle. The prince's mother conducts a test to determine the authenticity of the woman's royal status - she is a princess if she can feel the presence of a pea in the bed she spends the night in, which is covered by 20 mattresses and as many featherbeds. The woman wakes in the morning complaining of a sore back from a lump in the bed, and the prince is overjoyed to have finally found a princess to marry.

It's safe to assume that the princess has a very sensitive back to be able to feel a stimulus with such a low absolute threshold. Absolute threshold is the smallest level of energy required by an external stimulus to be detectable by the human senses, including vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch. It is more precisely defined as the degree of intensity of a stimulus necessary to correctly detect that stimulus 50% of the time. Stimuli at or above the absolute threshold - those which can be detected - are called supraliminal.

Examples of Absolute Threshold

Since we use our senses all the time, absolute threshold plays a part in everything we do. Here are examples of absolute threshold for each of the five senses:

  • Vision - A candle flame 30 miles away
  • Hearing - A watch ticking 20 feet away
  • Smell - A drop of perfume in a 6-room house
  • Taste - A teaspoon of sugar in a gallon of water
  • Touch - A wing of a fly on your cheek, dropped 1 cm

Let's delve further into two of these senses - vision and hearing.

Absolute threshold concerning vision is the smallest amount of light that you can detect. Imagine, for instance, a car with its headlights on is driving toward you in the dark night. At first, you can't see the car, because it is too far away. The headlights are not intense enough for you to detect. But, at some point, you are able to see the headlights, because it reached your absolute threshold.

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