Sensory Integration

I slacked off here the past few days. Things got very busy. I would give my kingdom for time to focus on one thing. Just one thing. I would also pay an arm and a leg for a simple, effective, and intuitive piece of educational technology. Right now, Adobe Captivate is not my friend.

I had to turn the Brain Rules back in to the library on Thursday and I didn’t make my goal of getting through the rest of the book. I got up through Chapter 10. Don’t worry. I’ll request the loan back soon enough.

Chapter 9: Sensory Integration

Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.

Stop and think of a memory you have that revolves around a scent. I can remember the smell of my grandparents’ bathroom. It always smelled clean and of soap. If I close my eyes, and imagine the smell, it’s almost like I’m there. Or what about touch? When I was in high school, I tutored a totally cute boy and I remember him messing with my mind by trailing his finger along my wrists.Trails of fire. Days spent in the warm summers of Texas with the hot wind blowing against me as I rode my bike to the park and nights, in contrast, still and hanging humid, blanketing our porch. The building I work in used to be the University Health Center. The stairwells particularly stink. Every day as I walk up to my office the sweet, putridness stings my nose. Slick walls thick with paint pave my hall. But, on warm days, I can crack my window and let in the scent of fresh air! Amazing, how the senses can bombard us, overwhelm us, inform us.

Descriptions such as the one above capture our attention and imagination. The science of the senses in chapter 9, not so much. But I will try to summarize the important points.

First point of science was the McGurk Effect where you would hear somebody say something. You would watch somebody say something. But when a video played showing the person saying one thing and the audio said another. The brain combined it all into something different. It was one hot mess.

There are a couple models of how our senses integrate. Some believe it is a linear process, where you sense something, it gets routed to the brain, and then it is perceived. Another model is more guerrilla-like…everything is all intertwined. You are perceiving, sending information all over the place, assumptions are made, things are being reconciled. There’s nothing linear about that. Both ways are accurate as nobody really knows how it works—we just know it does. Two ways that information can be processed is top-down and bottom-up processing. Bottom-up is similar to when you read and your eye captures all the lines and strokes of words and puts them together to make words, and sentences, and meanings. Top-down processing is similar to when you read a report and react to it.

1 in 200 humans have some sort of synesthesia, where one sense will trigger another. Medina states that it’s “always been a multi-sensory world.” That is what we are used to and that is how we better learn. Senses work together and play as a team. Medina then touches on the research of Richard Mayer. Mayer is an educational psychologist who studied the effects of multimedia on cognition. Medina touches on five multimedia design principles developed by Mayer:

  • The multimedia effect refers to the finding that students learn more deeply from a multimedia explanation presented in words and pictures than in words alone” (Mayer, 2003).
  • Temporal contiguity principle: Learning is improved when visual and verbal elements are presented together. (Rebetez: 8)
  • Spatial contiguity principle: Learning is improved when images and corresponding words are spatially integrated. For example, legends should be close to the corresponding picture elements. (Rebetez: 8)
  • The coherence effect refers to the finding that students learn more deeply from a multimedia explanation when extraneous material is excluded rather than included.” (Mayer, 2003)The modality effect is when students learn better when their visual/pictorial channel is not overloaded (i.e. when they must process words and graphics simultaneously at rapid pace) (Clark and Mayer, 2003 :86)
  • The modality design principle states that students learn better when their visual/pictorial channel is not overloaded (i.e. when they must process words and graphics simultaneously at rapid pace) (Clark and Mayer, 2003 :86)

Source: “Multimedia presentation.” – EduTech Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <;.

Next, Medina focuses on smell. He talks about the Proust effect, which I mentioned at the beginning of this post, where a scent can take you back to a place and time. It was the first time the term “involuntary memory” was coined, because most of the time, you don’t realize you are marking a memory when you are taking in a smell. There is something about smell that makes it special. Medina seems to think it because scent signals bypass the thalamus and go directly to the brain and then to the amygdala, which supervises emotional experiences and memory of emotional experiences.

How can we take this knowledge and make it improve learning?  Create multi-sensory lessons. You’ve heard this. You know it. People who learned something in a movie theater with the smell of popcorn, recalled better later when they were surrounded by the smell of popcorn. You have to be careful though, because the type of scent is important. If you used the smell of skunk in a theater, it wouldn’t be relevant to the movie theater. The smelll has to be somewhat related or tied to the venue. And remember earlier, we learned if you put people in the same environment where they learned something to test (such as studying in a cold room, then testing in a cold room), they would perform better. Medina also talks to the use of smells in marketing…like having vending machines emanate smells of chocolate. Studies show that chocolate sells increase when the smell is present. We don’t need that kind of subliminal messaging. Really.

What’s your strongest sensory memory? How do your senses help you learn?

Next up, Vision.


Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.


One thought on “Sensory Integration

  1. Pingback: Vision | Little Wing

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