Sensation Vs. Perception: What Are The Main Differences?

The sensory and perceptual processes have a very close relationship and they complement each other, but they are definitely not one and the same thing. There are discrete – yet important – characteristics that make the difference between sensation and perception and which make help you understand which is which more easily.

Let’s have a look at both processes and see what they entail exactly and what tells them apart.




The sensation is the first step in a complex process that allows us to make sense of the world surrounding us and everything we may interact with one way or another. In the sensory process, the body’s receptors detect external or internal stimuli and gather the related information to send it to the brain. These stimuli can be anything from the sound of rain, the temperature outside, a phone ringing, a flower’s perfume, the sweetness of a chocolate ice cream or pain in your stomach.

While the stimuli in our environment are countless, we can’t process all that information, so it may come as a surprise that the majority of the world around us never gets noticed. You can’t feel the numerous microscopic parasites on your skin, just like you don’t sense x-rays, radio waves or every individual spice in your meal.

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When a sensory receptor picks up a stimulus, it produces nerve impulses that make their way to the brain, which, in turn, translates them into meaningful information: a sound, a visual image, touch, odor, taste or pain, for instance. This is what perception is: giving meaning to the information picked up by our sensory stimuli.

Without sensation, perception can’t exist, just like, without perception, we wouldn’t “understand” our sensations, as the brain wouldn’t process what we are sensing.


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The Differences between Sensation and Perception

Do these two major processes make more sense to you now? Have a look at the table below to see all the main differences between perception and sensation.



  • The sensation is the first stage of a complex process that allows us to understand and interact with our world.
  • Perception is the second stage of said process.
  • The sensation is more physical. It entails the simple awareness of various stimuli.
  • Perception gives meaning to what we sense and can be said it is a mix of sensations with ideas, past experience, and connections with objects or concepts.
  • Sensation does not involve any organization, combination or selection of stimuli.
  • Perception entails organization, combination, and selection to form stimuli into a pattern.


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