The sensorimotor profile is a concept in the study of human perception put forth by philosopher Alva Noë. According to Noë, “The sensorimotor profile of an object is the way its appearance changes as you move with respect to it.”
Sensorimotor profiles are related to the enactivist approach to psychology, which opposes standard cognitive science or cognitivism, Cartesian dualism, and computational theories of mind. This approach involves the mind using its environment to organize itself. As per enactivism, we experience voluminousness, size, and shape as they relate to our sensorimotor understanding.
The profile is related to sensorimotor coupling in that this is the process by which a sensorimotor profile is created. The profile could not be compiled without the integration of the sensory system and the motor system.
Noë notes that the concept of a sensorimotor profile does much to reconcile what he calls the “dueling phenomenologies,” that perception presents the world as having volume, but that you cannot see anything behind an opaque object.
Noë claims that an object need only be solid and opaque to have a sensorimotor profile. He uses the example of a tomato, an object whose appearance changes as one moves around it; sometimes it appears more round, sometimes less round; sometimes one can see the characteristic furrow, sometimes one cannot. Noë explains that we understand that a tomato’s shape and appearance depends on our spatial relation to it, which is regulated by our own movement.
Profile of Color
As a challenge to qualia theory, Noë claims that color has a sensorimotor profile. He explains that an object's color changes based on the ambient light and the position of the perceiver of the object. As an example, he discusses "the specular highlights on the surface of a clean, new automobile [that] vary as viewing geometry varies." Furthermore, he cites "push-pull" effects of certain colors in certain situations. Depending on the hues that surround it, we perceive colors differently. This knowledge of how things should be based on how we move with respect to them is a characteristic of our perception, allowing the creation of such optical illusions as the checker shadow illusion.
Like the sensorimotor profile, perspectival properties (P-properties) are related to the sensory and motor systems' relation to an object. P-properties are characteristics like the apparent size of an object, as defined by the size of the patch required to completely occlude the object on a given plane. The plane is the one that the viewer "sees". Noë uses the example of a circular plate, which, when viewed from a certain angle, has the P-shape of an ellipse. Writes Noë, "That a plate has a given P-shape is a fact about the plate's shape, one determined by the plate's relation to the location of a perceiver, and to the ambient light." P-properties are described by mathematical relationships. The lay perceiver does not acknowledge the difference between P-properties and actual properties of objects, but when an artist attempts to represent a scene, P-properties become quite relevant. The artist must be aware of the laws of perspective as they relate to the P-properties of the objects in the scene.
An object's sensorimotor profile consists of many P-properties. Although P-properties are properties of the environment, they are only obtainable if one has the right sensorimotor apparatus.
Questions remain about the range of agents over which the concept of the sensorimotor profile applies. For example, it is not clear whether Noë’s theory applies only to the human case. Do other organisms have the phenomenology assumed by Noë? Does the answer affect how they associate changes in the appearance of objects with changes in their sensory apparatus? Does the theory require that an agent be aware of its own perceptual systems? This introduces questions of animal consciousness and self-awareness. If animals lack the right phenomenology, then what explains how they make sense of the world? One possible answer might involve J.J. Gibson’s notion of affordances; for example, cheese affords a mouse sustenance, and a rabbit hole affords a rabbit protection and shelter. In this way, affordance can substitute for sensorimotor profile in terms of perception in animals. If so, what explanatory power is added by introducing the idea of sensorimotor profile for the human case? Do we "see" differently from other agents?
- Noë, Alva. (2006). Action in Perception. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
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- Kiverstein, Julian. Sensorimotor knowledge and the contents of experience [PDF document]. Retrieved from University of Edinburgh School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences Web Site: 
- Action in Perception