Bottom Up and Top Down Processing

Top down and bottom up processing refer to two different theories regarding how the brain processes information delivered via the senses. The former refers to the idea that the brain takes in the information as a whole and breaks it down to the tiniest, most minor aspects of itself. The latter refers to the idea that it all begins with individual elements that are taken in, one by one, and pieced together to get the entire structure as it truly is. Although it may not seem like there is much of a difference between the two, there actually is. Sensation and perception are complicated concepts that still have many unanswered questions surrounding them, such as those addressed in feature integration theory, which asks how exactly is information pieced together in a structure – is it just all one thing or is each individual aspect analyzed separately and the brain constructs it all together in the final product like that of a puzzle being assembled.

Regarding the actual processing itself, it all goes back to our senses. Years ago when I was a student at my former college, the University of Pittsburgh, and I took a class called Sensation and Perception, I realized that we don’t “see” through our eyes. What we actually “see” is our brain’s replication of what is before our eyes, via the use of electrical signals made from light after its transduction along our optical nerve. Likewise with our other senses such as auditory, it is our brain’s replication of a specific motion of sound waves. Top down processing and bottom up processing are two different arguments pertaining to how exactly this manner of information interpretation via our brain’s is done. Is it done from bottom to top, or top to bottom?

An example in my own life when I think of these processing methods is that of when one is approaching an object from afar and as the vision becomes clearer overall as ones nears said object, the details become more and more certain until one is close enough to see it in entirety and all of its details are clear as can be and one is fully aware of what is being viewed. This example of features being integrated from bottom up.


Wede, J. (2017) Lesson 4: Bottom Up Porcessing. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Web site:

Wede, J. (2017) Lesson 4: Top Down Processing. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Web site:

Goldstein, B. Sensation and Perception. 1980.


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