Sensory Systems

Sensory systems are responsible for detecting changes in an organism's environment. There are three general classes of sensory systems: those concerned with the external environment (exteroceptive), those concerned with the inner environment (interoceptive), and those that monitor the positions of the body (propriocep-tive). There are several different sensory systems localized in the cerebral cortex, including the somatosensory, visual, auditory, vestibular, taste, and olfactory systems. Within each of these systems there is a hierarchical organization for information processing such that input from sensory receptors in the periphery is relayed through the thalamus, first to the primary sensory cortex, then the secondary sensory cortex, and finally to the cortical association areas. The primary sensory cortices are involved in detecting, localizing, and discriminating the different properties of a stimulus, be it tactile, visual, auditory, etc. The secondary sensory cortices receive this information and integrate it with previous memories of the stimulus to help identify it. The sensory association areas, in turn, receive and integrate information from different sensory modalities to provide conscious perception of the stimulus and initiate plans for behavioral action in response to it.

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