What’s the Difference Between Top-Down and Bottom-Up Processing

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Robert Haynes (2021, October 14). What is the difference between top-down and bottom-up processing. Psychreg on Cognitive Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/whats-difference-between-top-down-bottom-up-processing/

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As we know, though, our sensory receptors are constantly collecting information from our surroundings. Ultimately, it is the way we interpret that collected information that determines how we interact with it. In terms of perception, it describes our ability to consciously organize, interpret, and test sensory information. Perception includes bottom-up processing and top-down processing.

But how do you understand the cognition process? The cognition process can be understood with these two Curriculum: bottom-up and top-down processingspecial treatment. Is there a difference between the two? Yes really.

Top to bottom processing

It is categorized as top-down processing when pattern recognition is developed through contextual information. As a result of this approach, one’s perception begins with the most general and gradually progresses to the more specific.

Our perceptions are greatly influenced by the expectations we have and prior knowledge. In simple words, based on the knowledge we have, our brain fills in the blanks and anticipates what will happen next.

For example, you are presented with a paragraph written in illegible font style. You will have an easier time understanding what the author wants to say if you read the entire paragraph instead of reading the words separately. The brain may be able to make sense of the gist of a paragraph using the context provided by the surrounding words.

Gregory’s theory

According to the famous psychologist Richard Gregory, the process of cognition is a constructive process based on top-down processing.

Gregory explained that using past experience and knowledge of the stimulus helps us draw conclusions. For him, one’s perception is determined by their best guess or hypothesis regarding the world around them.

When it comes to visual perception, he argues, 90% of visual information is lost before it reaches the brain. The stimulus is generated based on the memory and experience associated with it. Thus, a perceptual hypothesis is created about it as a result of this event.

In Gregory’s view, the brain can form incorrect hypotheses when faced with an optical illusion, such as the Necker tube, which may lead to inaccurate perception.

incremental processing

In contrast to the top-down approach, in the bottom-up processing approach, perception begins at the sensory input, i.e. the stimulus. Therefore, the word ‘data-driven’ can be used when describing perception.

Suppose a soccer ball is standing in the middle of someone’s court. Football images and all other information about the stimulus are transmitted to the visual cortex of the brain from the retina. There is only one direction in which the signal travels.

Gibson’s theory

Psychologist E.J. Gibson has criticized Gregory’s interpretation. It was about optical illusions. In his opinion, they are just examples and not images that are seen in the ordinary visual surroundings of a person.

Gibson, a strong supporter of the bottom-up approach to cognition, argued that cognition is not subject to hypotheses. Rather, perception is a direct phenomenon. (‘What you see is what you get.’)

In his theory, he showed that the environment can provide sufficiently detailed information (such as shape, size, distance, etc.), about the stimulus. Thus, prior knowledge or prior experiences may not affect the perception of the stimulus.

This argument is supported by the parallax movement. When we are traveling on a fast-moving train, it seems that things closer to us pass more quickly, while things that are far away pass us relatively slowly. Therefore, we can determine the distance between us and an object passing us by observing the speed with which it is moving.


  • The process of collecting input from our environment to construct perceptions using the sensory information we have received.
  • Data based
  • It depends on sensory information

Ascending processing does not require any prior learning, so perception is determined only by stimuli received from the individual’s environment. The driving force behind cognition in bottom-up processing is the stimulus one is currently experiencing in the external environment.

from top to down

  • The process of interpreting incoming information according to an individual’s prior knowledge, experiences and expectations. (Gregory, 1970)
  • driven scheme.
  • Depends on experience and knowledge.

As is evident by knowing that during top-down processing, experience, prior knowledge, and expectations are all critical factors in creating a perception of new stimuli. Thus, prior knowledge, experience and expectations are the driving forces behind top-down visualization.

Robert Haynes received his degree in Psychology from the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health and well-being.

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