What is Perception?
The word perception is derived from the Latin word perceptio. It is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the presented information, or the environment.
All perception involves signals that go through the nervous system, which in turn result from physical or chemical stimulation of the sensory system. For example, vision involves light striking the retina of the eye, smell is mediated by odor molecules, and hearing involves pressure waves.
Perception is not only the passive receipt of these signals, but it’s also shaped by the recipient’s learning, memory, expectation, and attention. Perception depends on complex functions of the nervous system, but subjectively seems mostly effortless because this processing happens outside conscious awareness.
Perception can be split into two processes:
a) processing the sensory input, which transforms this low-level information to higher-level information (e.g., extracts shapes for object recognition).
b) processing which is connected with a person’s concepts and expectations or knowledge, restorative and selective mechanisms such as attention that influence perception.
In this article, I’d like to focus more on the latter of the two processes as this is what we see in most of in every day life, weather it be in an office setting or on the street.
Our needs impact our perception as well. Physiological needs, such as food and water or lack thereof, can influence how we feel about certain situations. Have you ever been in a social situation where you were very hungry? If so, you know this impacted your ability to socialize with other people. You may have found yourself less patient to listen because you were concerned about when you were going to eat.
Our peer group can also impact our perception. Our peers tend to determine what is desirable or undesirable, thereby giving us information on how to interpret data around us. You have experienced this personally, no doubt. If you perceive a brand of clothing desirable, it is more likely your friends also feel similar.
Our interests impact our perception. If you like running marathons, your perception on how much to spend on running shoes will be different from someone who prefers kayaking for fun and needs a pair of athletic shoes. Assume your interest at work is to be promoted. Your perception of work is very different than someone who can’t stand the job and is looking for a position with a different company.
Our expectations are another driver of our perceptions. For example, research performed suggests our expectations about how much something will hurt alters our perception after the fact. For example, if you are dreading getting a flu shot because you believe it will hurt a lot, once you actually have it done, you may say, “That didn’t hurt at all”, because your expectation prepared you beforehand. In other words, our expectations affect our perception after the fact. In this example, our expectation was extreme pain, but when that didn’t occur, our perception was quite the opposite. Our expectations and resulting perception can also be looked at in a work setting. For example, if you have high expectations that your work-group will win the annual chili cook-off at your company picnic, but you don’t win, your perception could be one of unfairness: “The judges like the marketing department better.” Likewise, if your team wins the chili cook-off and you expected to win, your perceptions may be, “Of course we won, we knew ours was the best.”
A halo effect or reverse halo effect can also alter our perceptions. The halo affect assumes that if a person has one trait we like, that all traits must be desirable. The reverse halo effect is if we find an undesirable trait in someone, we assume all traits are undesirable. Assume you don’t like the way your coworker speaks. You may then make an assumption that all of their traits are negative. Likewise, if you believe someone is a great dental hygienist, you may promote her to manage the other dental hygienists. Later, if the other hygienists complain about her management style, you may realize you promoted her because you thought her skill as a dental hygienist meant she also had good management skills. In this case, the halo effect occurred.
Awareness of our own perceptions and what drives those perceptions is a key component to being successful at life. If we know why we believe something to be good, right, fair, negative, or unfair based on our perceptions, we can begin to let go of some of our misperceptions. As a result, developing good relationships in life, respect, and mutual understanding can create a better relationships in life.