From PsychEvos Wiki


Sensation is the process of detecting and processing sensory information from the environment through the use of sensory organs. In evolutionary psychology, sensation is studied as an adaptation that serves to guide behaviors necessary for survival and reproduction. Sensory systems have evolved to detect and discriminate environmental stimuli to enable animals, including humans, to respond appropriately.

Types of sensation

There are multiple types of sensory systems that have evolved to detect specific environmental information:

  • Vision: Detects light and processes it into visual information. * [1]
  • Hearing: Allows for the perception of sound waves through the auditory system. * [2]
  • Taste: Facilitates the discrimination of different chemical substances in the mouth. * [3]
  • Smell: Detects airborne chemical molecules and provides information about the surrounding olfactory environment. * [4]
  • Touch: Provides information about mechanical, thermal, and chemical stimuli on the skin's surface. * [5]
  • Proprioception: Perceives body position and movement of body parts relative to each other. * [6]
  • Vestibular sense: Detects head movement and gravitational forces to maintain balance and spatial orientation. * [7]

Adaptive functions of sensation

Evolutionary psychologists argue that sensory systems are adaptations which have evolved to serve specific functions that ultimately enhance survival and reproduction:

  • Vision: Enables recognition of predators, prey, and socially relevant stimuli, such as potential mates or rivals. Visual perception also facilitates navigation through the environment. * [8]
  • Hearing: Provides information about the location and movements of objects, allowing for detection of predators, prey, and other animals. Hearing also enables communication, including social signals and language within human populations. * [9]
  • Taste: Assists in the identification of nutritious substances and the avoidance of potentially harmful substances through the perception of tastes such as sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. * [10]
  • Smell: Functions in detecting and identifying chemical substances in the environment, providing information about food quality, danger, and attracting potential mates. * [11]
  • Touch: Provides protection from potentially harmful stimuli by detecting pressure, temperature, and chemical changes on the skin. Touch also enables tactile exploration of the environment and plays a vital role in social bonding through physical contact. * [12]
  • Proprioception: Allows for coordination of body movements and the maintenance of balance, ensuring accurate motor control and reducing the risk of injury. * [13]
  • Vestibular sense: Facilitates upright posture and movement, which are crucial for survival and successful navigation through the environment. * [14]

Sensory tuning and adaptations

Sensory systems have evolved to be tuned to specific ecological niches and the demands of the environment. For example, the visual system of diurnal animals like humans have evolved to be sensitive to the wavelengths of light that are prevalent during the day, while nocturnal animals have visual systems tuned to lower light levels at night.

Another example includes the auditory system of animals, which is often tuned to be more sensitive to the frequencies of sounds produced by their respective species, enabling better communication and detection of conspecifics.

Sensory adaptations can also be observed in specialized structures, such as whiskers in various mammals, which provide tactile information about their environment or the echolocation ability of bats and cetaceans, which allows for spatial navigation and prey detection.


In the context of evolutionary psychology, sensation is a crucial component of human and animal behavior, serving to guide decisions related to survival and reproduction. Sensory systems have evolved to be tuned to specific stimuli and environmental factors, providing organisms with the information necessary to navigate their ecological niches successfully. Studying the evolutionary aspects of sensation contributes to understanding the mechanisms of sensory processing and their adaptive functions.