Sensory vs. Somatosensory

What's the Difference?

Sensory and somatosensory are both related to the perception and processing of sensory information, but they differ in their specific focus. Sensory refers to the overall system responsible for receiving and interpreting sensory stimuli from the environment, including the five traditional senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. It encompasses the entire range of sensory experiences and involves various brain regions. On the other hand, somatosensory specifically pertains to the perception of touch, temperature, pain, and proprioception (awareness of body position and movement). It is a subset of the sensory system that primarily involves the somatosensory cortex in the brain. While sensory is a broader term, somatosensory is more specialized and focuses on the tactile and proprioceptive aspects of sensory perception.


DefinitionRelating to the senses or sensationRelating to the perception of touch, pressure, temperature, and pain
TypesVisual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactileTactile
ReceptorsPhotoreceptors, mechanoreceptors, chemoreceptorsMeissner's corpuscles, Merkel cells, Pacinian corpuscles, Ruffini endings
LocationThroughout the bodyPrimarily in the skin and mucous membranes
FunctionPerception of various stimuliPerception of touch, pressure, temperature, and pain
ProcessingProcessed in the brain and interpretedProcessed in the somatosensory cortex of the brain
Associated DisordersSensory processing disorderSomatosensory system disorders, such as tactile defensiveness

Further Detail


Sensory and somatosensory are two terms often used in the field of neuroscience to describe different aspects of our perception and awareness of the world around us. While both terms relate to our senses, they have distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of sensory and somatosensory systems, their functions, and how they contribute to our overall sensory experience.

Sensory System

The sensory system is a complex network of organs, nerves, and pathways that enable us to perceive and interpret the world through our senses. It encompasses the five traditional senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Each sense has its own specialized receptors that detect specific stimuli and transmit signals to the brain for processing.

For example, the eyes contain photoreceptor cells that respond to light, allowing us to see and perceive the visual world. Similarly, the ears have hair cells that convert sound waves into electrical signals, enabling us to hear and interpret sounds. The taste buds in our tongue detect different flavors, while olfactory receptors in our nose help us smell various scents. Lastly, the skin is covered in sensory receptors that respond to touch, pressure, temperature, and pain.

The sensory system plays a crucial role in our daily lives, allowing us to navigate our environment, communicate, and experience the world around us. It provides us with valuable information about our surroundings, helping us make decisions and adapt to different situations.

Somatosensory System

The somatosensory system, also known as the somatic sensory system, is a subset of the sensory system that specifically deals with the perception of touch, pressure, temperature, and pain. It is responsible for processing sensory information from the skin, muscles, joints, and other tissues.

The somatosensory system is composed of specialized receptors called mechanoreceptors, thermoreceptors, and nociceptors. Mechanoreceptors detect mechanical stimuli such as pressure, vibration, and stretch, allowing us to perceive tactile sensations. Thermoreceptors respond to changes in temperature, enabling us to sense hot and cold. Nociceptors, on the other hand, are responsible for detecting pain and alerting us to potential tissue damage.

Once the sensory information is detected by the receptors, it is transmitted through sensory neurons to the somatosensory cortex in the brain. The somatosensory cortex is located in the parietal lobe and is responsible for processing and interpreting the sensory input. It allows us to perceive the location, intensity, and quality of tactile sensations, as well as differentiate between different types of touch and pain.

Key Differences

While both the sensory and somatosensory systems are integral to our perception, there are several key differences between them. One of the main distinctions lies in the scope of stimuli they process. The sensory system encompasses all five traditional senses, including sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. In contrast, the somatosensory system focuses specifically on touch, pressure, temperature, and pain.

Another difference lies in the specialized receptors involved. The sensory system has a wide range of receptors, each designed to detect specific stimuli related to the different senses. In contrast, the somatosensory system primarily relies on mechanoreceptors, thermoreceptors, and nociceptors to detect tactile sensations, temperature changes, and pain.

Furthermore, the processing of sensory information occurs in different regions of the brain. The sensory information from the traditional senses is processed in various areas, such as the visual cortex for vision and the auditory cortex for hearing. In contrast, the somatosensory information is processed in the somatosensory cortex, which is specifically dedicated to interpreting tactile sensations.

Lastly, the somatosensory system plays a crucial role in our sense of body awareness and proprioception. Proprioception refers to our ability to sense the position, movement, and orientation of our body parts without relying on visual cues. This sense is essential for coordinating movements, maintaining balance, and perceiving our body's position in space. While the sensory system contributes to our overall perception, it does not have the same level of involvement in proprioception as the somatosensory system.


In conclusion, the sensory and somatosensory systems are both vital components of our perception and awareness. While the sensory system encompasses all five traditional senses, the somatosensory system specifically focuses on touch, pressure, temperature, and pain. The specialized receptors, processing regions in the brain, and involvement in proprioception are some of the key differences between these two systems. Understanding the attributes of sensory and somatosensory systems helps us appreciate the complexity of our sensory experience and how our brain processes the information it receives.

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