According to Hushman et al. (1996), the study of perception is one of the older areas of psychology. Before it was studied through psychological research, it was the object of philosophical examination.
Questions about what man can know have long plagued him. Extreme empiricists argue that all universals can be known through what we experience through our five senses. On the other hand, nominalists argue that universals are not even a kind of thing.
For instance, Plato differentiated between a world of phenomena and a world of forms. He accepted an objective essence that, as a universal, was intuited rather than perceived directly.
Aristotle, on the other hand, approached knowledge more empirically. He denied Plato’s thesis that the phenomena and forms were separate. Things had no dual existence. Objects did not subjectively in this world and perfectly, in a world of forms as Plato proposed.
The essence of an object existed in the object itself. This Aristotelian approach is held by many philosophers in modified forms.
In opposition to the theory that deals with phenomena empirically, was the viewpoint of the skeptic. This thesis proposed that man could never be sure what reality was like. He could never directly contact the objects in this world.
Parameters for viewing perception
Now, there are three parameters for viewing perception. First, only subjective descriptions in characterizations that may or may not have a factual foundation are of concern. That which is purely factual and verifiable is excluded.
Second, perception may be viewed as primary or secondary mediation; primary mediation is the physical ability to sense phenomena in the external world (i.e. the world beyond an individual). It is the ability to see or hear.
A person whose hearing, for example, is limited to a maximum of six thousand cycles per second is incapable of hearing a second that vibrates at six thousand, five hundred per second because of primary mediation.
Secondary mediation is the coding of connotative and denotative qualities of things. A person may sense the existence of an object through sensory experience.
That is primary mediation. When that person codes that sensation symbolically, secondary mediation has occurred. The study of human information processing or perception is concerned with secondary mediation only.
Perception is an intervening variable and therein lies the third constraint. As an intervening variable, it is somewhat analogous to learning.
Learning theoretic distinguishes between learning (what an individual knows) and performance (what an individual is willing to demonstrate).
We do not observe learning, we only see the performance. Thus, perception may be viewed as an intervening variable.
It stands between the message sent to a receiver and the response of that receiver, or it stands between the message and the meaning that a person attributes to the message.
An examination of perception seeks to reveal the elements of those intervening variables in hopes of better understanding how messages that impinge upon it as stimuli are handled and how those messages are translated into meaningful units and responses.
Since perception is an intervening variable, it is difficult to study. While it is easy to examine the stimuli or the responses of an animal, it is rather difficult to experimentally examine the responses that makeup perception.
Perception and communication
Since the relationship between perception and communication is such a complex one, there is a natural tendency to consider them the same, rather than to view them separately.
Just as generations have been oblivious to the problems inherent in human communication, also they have taken perception for granted. Little consideration has been given to the formation and accuracy of perception.
Instead, people have generally accepted the philosophy of ‘What you see is what you get, and have accepted unquestioningly that which appears to be the case.
The importance of the perceptual process and the general recognition of its importance are confirmed by many disciplines currently researching it.
Its significance to the individual was described by a British psychologist in terms of the informal and professional judgments of others and their effects on us.
As an example of such an informal judgment, he cites one’s choice for marriage. Professional judgments include the selection of an individual for employment or admission to an educational institution.
Since a person depends on his scenes for perceptual data and since one individual sensory equipment is very similar to that of another, what accounts for such glaring differences in perception? The differences are caused by both peripheral, physiological, and central factors.
The central components included distortion from ‘learned patterns of information sampling and are utilization’. Central factors are simply psychological factors.
It should be stressed that there is a difference between sensing and perceiving. And when we do perceive an event or a person, we are often inaccurate.
In conclusion, the accuracy of the message that is transmitted to others, whether intentionally or not, is limited by the perceptual abilities of the receivers. Their perceptual abilities in him are severely hailed by several restricting factors.
Selectivity in perception
The fact that we perceive selectively limits the number of stimuli to which we will attach meaning. That such selectivity is necessary is oblivious when one considers the thousands of stimuli one is exposed to each day.
Since it is not humanly possible to attach meaning to them all, it becomes the receiver’s task to select those stimuli to attend to. This determination and selection are made based on which ones are most meaningful to the receiver.
In short, as a perceiver, an individual is the product of all his past experiences. These accumulated experiences naturally influence his perceptions. Perpetual orientation is normally dictated by personal experiences.
A stereotype is a characteristic considered to represent a particular type of person or thing. If you stereotype someone, you form a fixed general idea of them and assume that they will behave in a particular way.
A stereotype is a set of inaccurate, simplistic generalizations about a group that allows others to categorize them and treat them accordingly.
Now, it is the tendency to use stereotypes that constitutes another factor that restricts accurate perception. By stereotyping, one avoids the necessity of having to recognize the uniqueness of individuals or events and instead places them in convenient prearranged categories.
The person who stereotypes evaluates someone or something based on one characteristic. Whether or not that characteristic is germane to the issue being considered is immaterial.
It should be stressed that stereotyping is different from prejudice. Besides, it is neither uncommon to see stereotyping equated with prejudice nor to see it alleged that those who stereotype are prejudiced.
In addition, humans and non-humans can be stereotyped, for example, a village. Consider the picture that enters your mind when you are asked to visualize a rural area. In short, human beings are not the only objects that are stereotyped.
Proximity and perception
The proximity of the perceiver to the object or event in question is another influential factor in the perceptual process. This proximity can be either physical or psychological.
A simple example involving physical perception would be the common experience of thinking one recognizes a person from afar and not discovering the mistake until drawing close to the person, who by this time had become quite suspicious of the unsolicited attention.
Proximal environments, however, are environments of perception or stimulation. They can be directly experienced and they have potential meaning for the individual.
They include expectations of others and negative evaluations, as examples of variables that make up proximal environments. It is the perceived environment that exerts a force upon the individual perception.
Role and perception
A person’s role or position constitutes another restricting force on perception. Not only does one’s role influence the role role-holder in his perceptions of another, but it also affects the other’s perception of him.
Attractiveness and perception
An additional obstacle to accurate perception can be found in the attractiveness of the person being observed.
Attractiveness often constitutes a ‘hello’ effect in that, though irrelevant, it extorts undue influence. For example, an attractive girl could change the attitudes of males more than an unattractive one could.