Sensory Coding: Getting Messages from Receptors to Your Brain

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  • 0:05 Sensory Information
  • 1:11 Reception
  • 2:30 Coding
  • 4:07 Transmission
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When you stub your toe, you feel pain. But that's not all to the story: information about what your toe is feeling has to travel up to your brain. In this lesson, we'll look at the process of sending information from sensory receptors to the brain.

Sensory Information

Imagine there's a house on fire, and the fire hose can't reach it. So, a bunch of people line up and pass buckets of water from person to person to try to put out the fire.

That's kind of what happens when your body receives a message from the world around you. For example, let's say that you stub your toe. Ouch! Your toe hits something, and the nerves in your toe feel it. But they don't really know what it is, so they send the message up through your body to your brain. Then your brain receives that sensory information from your toe and says, 'Ow! That feeling is pain!'

The way we experience the world around us involves a complex system of sensory receptors, which are cells that receive sensory information from the world around us, other cells, and different parts of our brain. It's kind of like passing a bucket of water from person to person, trying to get the water (or sensory information) from the fire hose to the house.

Let's look closer at the way that sensory receptors receive, code, and transmit information to our brains.


The first thing that happens when you stub your toe is that the sensory receptors in your foot notice that something is different. 'Hang on a minute,' they say, 'that doesn't feel like it usually does.' This is the process of reception: receptor cells receive sensory information from a stimulus.

Notice the words reception, receptor and receive are all related to each other, and that's what you should think of when you think of the first step of sensation. The cells are receiving information.

The information that's being received is different for different receptors and scenarios. For example, receptors in your skin might receive a message if the temperature changes or if you begin to lose your balance. Receptors in your eyes receive messages in the form of light waves, and those in your ears receive them in the form of sound waves.

But the bottom line is the sensory receptors get information from the world around you. Now, those receptors are kind of dumb. They don't know what they're experiencing. The receptors in your toe don't know if the toe is feeling pain, or being tickled, or whether it's just touched something cold. They need to find out what is going on, so they have to send the sensory information to the brain so that it can interpret it.


Here's the problem, though: when you stubbed your toe, the information that the receptors got was a physical sensation. In order to get it to the brain, it needs to be in a different form. Think of it kind of like the receptors received information in one language, and they need to translate it into another language for the brain.

Transduction is the changing of sensory information into a message that can travel through the body. It is the next thing that happens after reception. Again, it's kind of like changing the message from one language to another. In linguistics, this is called translation. Think of translation to help you remember transduction. During transduction, sensory information is coded. There are two major types of coding that happens to a sensory message.

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