How bottom-up processing works

Bottom-up processing is the interpretation of perception starting from the incoming stimulus and working upwards until the representation of the object is formed in our mind. This process shows that our perceptual experience is entirely based on sensory stimuli that we piece together using only the data available from our senses.

In order to understand the world, we must obtain energy from the environment and convert it into neural signals. This process is called sensation. In the next step of this process, perception, our brain interprets these sensory signals.

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Bottom-up and top-down processing

How do people process the perception information from the world around them? There are two basic ways to understand how this feeling and perception happen. One is called bottom-up processing, and the other is called top-down processing.

Bottom-up processing can be defined as sensory analysis starting from the entry level-what our senses can detect. This form of processing starts with sensory data and continues to the brain’s integration of these sensory information. Information starts in one direction from the retina and continues to the visual cortex.

This process shows that processing begins with the perception of stimuli and is driven by basic mechanisms of evolutionary development. Unlike top-down processing, bottom-up processing is purely data-driven and does not require prior knowledge or learning. Occurs when bottom-up processing occurs.

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For example, if you see an image of a single letter on the screen, your eyes will transmit the information to your brain, and then your brain will put all this information together.

How bottom-up processing works

The bottom-up processing theory was proposed by psychologist EJ Gibson, who uses a direct method to understand perception. Gibson does not rely on learning and background, but believes that perception is a “what you see is what you get” process.He thinks that feeling and perception are the same thing.

Because Gibson’s theory suggests that processing can be understood only in terms of environmental stimuli, it is called the ecological theory of perception.

The bottom-up processing works like this:

  1. We experience sensory information about the world around us, such as the light level from our environment.
  2. These signals are carried to the retina. Transduction converts these signals into electrical pulses that can be transmitted.
  3. Electrical impulses travel along the visual pathway to the brain, where they enter the visual cortex and are processed to form our visual experience.
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This method of understanding perception is an example of reductionism. Bottom-up processing is not to look at perception more comprehensively, including how sensory information, visual processes, and expectations affect the way we view the world, but to decompose the process into the most basic elements.

Real-life applications

You can compare bottom-up processing to top-down processing by considering examples of how each process works. Imagine that you see a slightly fuzzy shape. If you look at the shape yourself using bottom-up processing, you might immediately see it as a capital letter B.

Now, if someone puts the image next to other contextual clues, such as the numbers 12 and 14, you might think of it as the number 13 instead of the capital B. In this case, you can use top-down processing to interpret visual information based on surrounding visual cues.

Optical illusion

Although these two processes are often regarded as competing theories, both play an important role in perception. For example, the experience of visual illusions can illustrate how bottom-up and top-down processes affect the way we experience the world.

You may have seen many optical illusions where random ink spots initially look like ambiguous shapes, but after a while they start to look like a face. If we only use bottom-up processing, these ink dots will continue to look like random shapes on paper.

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However, because our brains tend to perceive faces, and due to the top-down process, we are likely to start seeing faces with these fuzzy shapes.

Brain diseases and injuries

Facial agnosia, Also known as facial blindness, is a neurological disease in which people cannot recognize familiar faces, including their own faces. Although other aspects of visual processing and cognitive functions are not affected, people will experience functional sensations but incomplete perceptions.The patient can perceive familiar faces but cannot recognize them.

In this case, bottom-up processing is still effective, but the lack of top-down processing prevents them from connecting what they see with stored knowledge. This shows how important these two processes are in shaping our perceptual experience.

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Bottom-up processing is very useful for understanding certain elements of how perception occurs. However, research also shows that other factors, including expectations and motivations (top-down processing elements), can also affect our perception of things around us.