Going Above and Beyond Our Five Senses: The Ones We Don’t Talk About

When it comes to talking about and teaching our children about how we sense the world around us, we use a five sense model, that of which includes our sight, taste, hearing, touch, and smell. The reason why this model was originally used was that these senses were paired with a visible part of the body, either our skin, noses, mouths, eyes, or ears, and thus was super easy to remember and teach. The problem with this model is that it keeps us stuck in an ancient way of thinking, so much so, that we are ingrained to believe that there are only five sense and anything beyond these are coined that dubious “sixth sense” we always hear about. However, humans are capable of so much more than our basic senses, and actually, have anywhere of up to twenty in total depending on how to define the word “sense”. Let’s explore the ones that are lesser known!

1. Proprioception

This sense allows us to innately know where your body parts are within space, this includes our muscles and appendages. This is what allows you to place your finger on the tip of your nose with your eyes closed. This is also what allows you to scratch your leg when you are laying in bed at night in the dark. This sense tells you exactly where you are without the need to see where you are. Those who are clumsy and disoriented tend to have a poor sense of proprioception, often caused by a mutation in the gene PIEZ02.

2. Equilibrioception

Beyond being able to know where our body is in space, we also need to be able to keep it upright. Our sense of balance is also called equilibrioception and is accomplished with the vestibular system within the inner ear. You can easily throw this system off and lose your balance if you spin around multiple times in quick succession.

3. Vestibular Sensation

The vestibular system in our inner ear also gives us the ability to feel velocity. This is where car sickness or motion sickness comes from, as the signals that are getting sent to your brain don’t match the vestibular system, which is telling your body that you are stationary. This causes a mismatch in what your senses are detecting collaboratively, causing queasiness.

4. Thermoception

Although you probably don’t think about this one that often, your ability to tell whether it is hot or cold outside is a sense called thermoception. We have thermoreceptors in our skin that allows us to avoid extremely hot environments or cold environments that would cause severe damage like frostbite and hypothermia. 

5. Kinaesthesia

This is what allows us to sense movement of all kinds. Whether this is something you catch out of the corner of your eye or something you see on the television screen.

6. Chronoception

This is your ability to be able to sense the passage of time. Although you may be taught to read time and are taught the understanding behind time, your actual ability to sense that time has passed is an innate sense built into your body.

7. Nociception

This is what allows you to feel pain.

Beyond these seven, there are also rare senses like being able to perceive electrical fields, have a magnetic sense of direction, and experience the blending of two senses like color and numbers (synesthesia). Although not quite mainstream, the 9-sense model of our senses is gaining ground, which includes our ability to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel pain, sense temperature, and have balance.