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Space perception, or the awareness of a person's position relative to other objects occupying the same environment, is affected by a multitude of factors, including the five senses as perceived through sensory organs, balance and gravity. Smells, sights, tactile experience and sounds all fuse together to create a unified perception of space that allows people to orient themselves to the world and forge an understanding of reality. Even the colloquial phrase “close enough to taste it” suggests that gustatory senses can also affect how one perceives space. Additionally, psychologists believe that the psyche is another factor that enhances perception of space, allowing people to fill in details about that which cannot be experienced or confirmed immediately with the concrete senses; this is the case when perceiving an object as three-dimensional. Three dimensionality can’t be viewed with the eyes, which are binocular and do not see three dimensions of an object without a person rotating position or rotating an object itself and remembering the sides of the object that are not seen at present.
Visual perception, which relies on the retinas of the eyes for sensing what is seen, is believed to be the main factor that affects perception of space. Width, height, depth and shapes are among the characteristics determined by sight. The eyes also notice which objects in space occupy certain planes; objects can be vertical to the viewer, horizontal or sagittal. Physicists cite gravity as an influence that affects how closely an object appears to a plane.
Sight enables viewers to map out whether their position is above, beneath or alongside landmarks in space. It also adds color to what is perceived in the environment. Finally, this main source of space perception enables one to notice interactions between various objects.
The second most important factor in perception of space, according to studies, is the sense of balance, or equilibrium. Even in dim light or in a state of complete blindness, balance can enable one to determine which way is up or down or where the ground and sky are in relation to the body. The ability to maintain balance and remain stationary can limit illusions and distortions in the perception of space. By contrast, the kinesthetic experience of moving the body can make objects in space appear smaller or larger.
Olfactory perception and auditory perception depend on the nose smelling and the ears hearing how near or far objects are. In the case of the hearing experience, quirks such as echoes and muffled sounds can reveal unique details about the environment. Even when all of the senses work together with gravity, the psyche and balance to create spatial awareness, scientists say that people must still judge, correct and constantly analyze stimuli to verify that their perception is reliable.
Since space perception is based on equilibrium and sight, I would expect that space perception might change for those who have inner ear problems or have serious visual impairments. Obviously, for those with vertigo, it can be difficult to be aware of where you body is relative to other objects, which is why it’s so disorienting. But are there any studies or stories out there that focus on space perception in those with visual, auditory or balance impairments and how they’ve learned to cope?