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Five Senses: Top 10 Questions

February 2016

Thanks to Thanks to Dr. Naya Antink, pediatrician at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center; and Dr. Bradley Bishop, pediatrician, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center for their answers. for the answers.

1: Do we really only have five senses?

Yes, we humans only have five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Some animals have more than five, but that's pretty rare. (From Karli at Sagle Elementary School in Sagle)

2: What sense do we use the most?

It depends on what sense you use and if you have all five senses originally. The sense we probably rely on and use the most is our vision. We use our eyes all day, as our eyes are open. We do use our senses of smell and taste at times, and our sense of hearing is always there, but it's our vision that we most rely on. (From Jorge at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

3: What makes us hear sound?

The ear works like a cone to absorb wave lengths of sound. As the sound comes into the ear, it hits our eardrum, which then converts the sound wave into a mechanical movement that gets transmitted into an electrical signal. This signal goes through the cochlea and gets sent up to the hearing section of the brain. It is then that we hear sound. (From Caden at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

4: How do taste buds work?

Taste buds are very specific cells on the surface of your tongue that help you sense flavor. When you eat something that's sweet, like sugar, the taste buds contain receptors that signal you to taste that sweet substance. That signal is sent to your brain. The taste buds on your tongue can sense four different things: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. (From Rhone at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise)

5: How do your fingers feel?

Within your fingers, you have sensory cells that help you feel things. How these cells are distributed, how close they are together, affects whether there is any texture to what you are feeling and the degree to which you will feel it. If you'll notice, it is easier to feel textures with your fingers than it is to feel them with the back of your hand. Your receptor cells are able to sense as you touch something (the sense varies depending on the pressure you apply) and the signals are sent to your brain and let you know you are touching something. (From Hyfa at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise)

6: When you see a color, how do you know that everybody else sees the same color?

Color perception is a difficult science. When we see a color, we learn that the lemon is yellow, and the wavelength that is emitted from the lemon into our brain triggers a special cell in the eyeball, called a cone cell. A signal is sent to the brain allowing us to interpret it as lemon. Now, some people are colorblind, that is they cannot "see" certain colors. There are special tests where you can determine if you are colorblind. So, we don't know until someone takes those tests if they are "seeing" the same color as everyone else. (From Georgia at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

7: Why do kids like sweet the best?

We have the sweet receptors on our tongue, the taste buds that taste sweet. There are some who believe that there are more sweet taste buds when we are little and that those taste buds dissipate with time, or become less with time. Then, there are those that believe that sugar can actually stimulate our brain and give us excitement. Doctors use sugar water to help calm infants when they do procedures with them. (From Masha at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

8: Why are our ears shaped like this?

Ears are shaped like a cone to help absorb the sound waves and channel them deep into the ear to the eardrum. There, they are transmitted into electrical signals that get sent to the brain. (From Kaylani at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise)

9: How does the eyeball actually work?

The eyeball receives light. There is a small, black dot in the front of your eye. That is the hole that allows light to enter through the eye. Behind that is a lens. It's like a lens of a camera that helps to focus the light onto the back of your eyeball. On the back of your eyeball, there are receptors called cones and rods that help you perceive the light. The light is sent to your brain to help you see. (From Austin at Sagle Elementary School in Sagle)

10: How can you smell something while your nose is clogged up?

Your nose has receptor cells that sense particles like those of a rose or food. These sensations are transmitted into your brain to acknowledge the smell. When your nose is clogged, sometimes some of those cells get covered, and it may be difficult to smell things when your nose is stuffy. (From Gus at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise)


January 2009

Thanks to Dr. David Bettis, Pediatric Neurologist and Dr. David Agler, family medicine, St. Luke's Regional Medical Center, Boise; and Dr. Charles Davis, family medicine, St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, for the answers.

1: Are the lines on your fingers able to tell you if things are rough or soft? (Michael); and, What is it in your skin that helps you feel? (Stewart)

It's not so much the lines themselves as it is the sensors, which are very small. They are under the skin and in the skin. It's those sensors that actually transmit the information from the skin itself up to the brain. There are tiny, different receptors for different kinds of touch. There's one for temperature, cold and hot, one for pain, one for soft touch, and a different one for vibration. (From Michael in Mrs. Woodall's class at Hayden Meadows Elementary and Stuart in Mrs. Miller's class at Caldwell Adventist Elementary School)

2: Is your taste connected to your smell when you eat?

Taste and smell are separate senses; they do work in harmony, but they are two separate senses entirely. Those two are probably the most interrelated. If you get a bad cold and your nose is stuffed up you can't taste food, for instance. So it's a waste to have a turkey dinner when you can't taste anything. In this scenario, taste is partly dependent on smell and you use both in that case. (From Samantha in Mrs. Anderson's class at Hillcrest Elementary in American Falls)

3: What is the most important sense out of the five?

It's hard to say one is any more important than the others. Obviously if you have all of the senses, it makes for a better experience, but you can survive without one or more of your senses. It's very hard to think about how one is more important but if you lose one completely it can cause problems. Losing touch would be important, for instance, since you don't know if you're going to get burned and it could be dangerous. (From Schyler in Mrs. Schweitzer's class at Riverside Elementary in Boise)

4: Can you feel the taste buds on your tongue?

You can feel the taste buds on your tongue if you put your finger on your tongue. There are little bumps and the taste buds are fairly small. They are too small to feel the individual ones but you can feel the papillae (the bumps) that contain the taste buds. One interesting thing to add is the cilia on the taste buds. There are medical conditions where it can grow quite long and actually cause conditions called hairy tongue. They grow so long it almost looks like hair on your tongue. (From Sam who attends home school in Coeur d'Alene)

5: Why are animal senses better than human senses?

It most likely has to do with the anatomy of the animal's ears or eyes, or nose. Some animals have worse senses than humans. It would be based on the anatomy and how we have developed, either humans or animals. Different animals have different survival values. So an eagle with "eagle eyes" needs to see things from far away because they're flying up high. Cats have very good vision at a distance but up close they feel with their nose and sense of smell. So it would depend on what sense makes the most survival sense and value for that animal. (From Kyle in Mrs. Amburn's class at Cynthia Mann Elementary in Boise)

6: Can they make a robot that has all of our human senses?

They haven't quite gotten all of our human senses engineered yet with the robot. But if you think about it, theoretically, could you have a robot that would have the same kind of senses we have? It would respond as long as it has a robot-type brain that would be able to intercept those senses. A robot wouldn't care if its arm got cut, which is a response to our sense; touch protects us from injury. If something were sharp or sticky we would pull our arm away from it whereas a metal robot arm doesn't care if it bumps into things. The sense of touch wouldn't mean as much to a robot as other things like seeing or hearing. (From Gabrielle in Mrs. Hunt's class at Cynthia Mann Elementary in Boise)

7: Where on the tongue is the location of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, and why are they in separate places?

There are separate receptors for different senses of taste, but they're actually all mixed together and the tongue all over has a sense of taste. One thing that is really essential to taste is saliva. Try wiping your tongue dry with a towel or piece of paper and then putting a little salt or sugar on your tongue, and you'll see it's harder to taste it without the saliva to dissolve the chemical. We also swish things around our tongue, so if there's decreased taste on one side, we mix it up. (From Andrew who attends home school in Twin Falls)

8: Is the ear connected to your nose on the inside?

There is a type of connection there. From your middle ear you have a tube that drains down to the back of your sinuses and helps to equalize the pressure between your middle ear and the outside atmosphere. So there is a connection there between your ear and the nose through that tube. (From Greg in Mrs. Anderson's class at Hillcrest Elementary in American Falls)

9: What advice do you have for someone taking care of their five senses?

It's important to protect your eyes and wear protective eyewear when you're doing certain activities such as mowing the lawn, doing carpentry work, pounding nails, or using a power tool. More importantly it's very, very important to use sunglasses because bright light from the sun, if it's overexposed to your eyes, can be very harmful. And of course we never, ever look directly into the sun. One important way to protect your hearing is to avoid prolonged exposure to loud noise. One problem that we see nowadays with the iPod generation is early hearing loss because of the volumes on the iPods with the earphones in. Not exposing your ears to loud noise is important. And please don't stick q-tips in your ears; that eardrum is very sensitive and can rupture easily. It's harder to protect your sense of smell, taste, or touch; these are all things that can be damaged. And if you touch something really super hot you can actually damage the actual nerve on the hand. Stay away from anything that could physically damage your skin or physically damage your tongue, for instance. It's also key to avoid alcohol and drugs. The human body is marvelous and we have our special senses that allow to us to watch beautiful sunsets and listen to our favorite music and enjoy our favorite foods, so why would we want to alter that with drugs or alcohol? Life is good just the way it is, and the human body is truly a miracle. (From Brittney in Mrs. Everett's class at Mountain Home High School)


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