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The Need to Sense


Explanations > Needs > The Need to Sense

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We all have a need to sense, to receive inputs from our five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell). From these we can then understand the world around us.

Some people have a preference for some senses over others. Vision is typically a primary sense, followed by hearing and touch. Smell can be very subtle and is related to taste.


A person wakes up and it is completely dark. They panic.

Sensory deprivation tanks deliberately mute as many senses as possible, and can hasten hallucination.

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Sensation is the basic input by which we interact with the world. Without sensing, we have no idea what is going on around us. This effectively starves our meaning-making mental processes, which at first become confused and may eventually start making up things. In experiments with sensory deprivation, where people are deprived of sensory input, they soon become disoriented, losing sense of time and even becoming hallucinatory. This is one reason why people are blindfolded and constricted for interrogation and punishment.

Physical sensing is an important part of human contact. When we touch others, we feel connected to them and our sense of identity expands. Hugging enhances this as we connect strongly. Very close contact is a natural part of sexual encounters.

Intense sensation for pleasure can be seen in rock concerts and dance halls where volumes are high and flashing lights can cause trance-like states. It is possible also to be overwhelmed by sensations, for example when sounds are too loud or cacophonous, tastes too salty, smells too acrid and so on. We do have some internal filters than can hold back some of the world as we focus on points of interest, but some sensations are likely to cut through and grab us (for example a child's cry).

So what?

When you are designing communications, consider how these will impact the senses. This is one reason why direct communication is more effective than something written.

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