What is it?
Why do we need it?
We take in information from our environment through our senses. Sensory acuity refers to the level of sensitivity we have in each of our senses and this varies both within and between individuals. Most people think about the ‘big 5’ -sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. However, there are in fact many more senses, with no definitive number as such due to their overlapping and differing views on what constitutes an individual sense.
The sense of touch for example can be split into the experience of internal and external temperature, pressure, muscle tension, pain, itchiness, stretch, balance, hunger, thirst, time, and proprioception (the ability to sense where the parts of your body are in relation to each other). Feelings of familiarity, premonition, attraction, timing and agency can all be thought of as senses.
More senses are considered an discovered as we continue to research in the field. Our sense of taste for example has traditionally been considered as relating to salt, bitter, sour and sweet. Now there is recognition of umami, a savoury experience, and more recently of kokumi, which gives heartiness to flavours (think of parmesan cheese and onions).
We all experience cross modality to some extent and the vocabulary of this slips into everyday life. For example, when describing a pudding as heavy, music as smooth, lemons as sharp and angular and wines as unctuous. Some of us experience this mixing of the senses to a greater extent, which can significantly enhance our abilities and skills in specific areas. Synaesthesia of the senses has been associated with some of our best known contemporary and historical figures in the arts.
Marketers have known for some time how changing our environments influences our behaviour. Supermarkets are carefully designed to make us want to buy more. For example, the scent of freshly baked bread wafting through the store; making packaging more heavy and therefore creating a sense of quality; using colours of green to create a feeling of trust all make us spend more time and money. Casinos notoriously manipulate lighting and smells to fool our sense of time and day or night.
By drawing your attention to various senses you can start to notice and hone them.
Research in this field has shown how in doing so we can increase our wellbeing, increase our productivity and take more pleasure in our environments. For example, the use of the colour red makes us perform better at cognitive tasks, eat less, enjoy coffee more, and give us the sporting advantage on the pitch. High-pitched music makes food and drink taste sweeter to us and reducing the volume leads to us making healthier food choices, to name but a few.
Reading in this area includes advice on how to change our environments to get the most out of them.
The Power of the Senses. Russell Jones.
Touch. David J Linden.
Prominent researchers in this area include:
Touch: John Bargh; Joshua Ackerman
Taste: Professor Barry Smith; Professor Charles Spence
Creativity: Ravi Mehta: Juliet Zhu