Perception is the set of processes by which an Individual becomes aware of and interprets information about the environment.
Perception refers to the way we try to understand the world around us. We gather information through our five sense organs, but perception adds meaning to these sensory inputs. The process of perception is essentially subjective in nature, as it is never an exact recording of the event or the situation.
Perception is the process by which we organize and interpret our sensory impressions in order to give meaning to the environment. As pointed out, a situation may be the same but the interpretation of that situation by two individuals may be immensely different.
Factors Affecting Perception
Sensory Limits and Thresholds : Our sensory organs have specialized nerves which respond differently to the various forms of energy they receive. For instance, our eyes receive and convert light waves into electrical energy which are transmitted to the visual cortex of the brain to create the sensation of vision and subsequently leading to perception. But each sensing receptor requires a minimum level of energy to excite it before perception can take place. The minimum level is called e absolute threshold – a point below which we do not perceive energy. The differential threshold is the smallest amount by which two similar stimuli must be different in order to be perceived as different.
Psychological factors such as personality, past experiences and learning and motives affect an individual‘s perceptual process to the considerable extent. The internal set or the inclination to perceive certain stimuli in a particular way also influences one‘s perception. These largely determine why people select and attend to a particular stimulus or situation over other. Things compatible to one‘s learning, interest, attitude, and personality are likely to get more attention than others. As you must have noticed, a person who is sitting aloof from your group in a far away corner, automatically turn to your direction the moment you utter his name. Similarly, if you happen to hear the word management‘or organizational behavior‘while traveling in a public transport, your attention is surely going to the conversation.
This happens because of one‘s strong association (with one‘s own name) or the current interest in the topics. Likewise, one‘s expectancy can affect and even distort one‘s perception.
The Target :
The characteristics of the target that is being observed can affect perception. We have earlier noted that a pre-requisite of perception is attention. It has been found that there is a tendency to give more attention to stimuli which are :
Large in size
Stand out from the background.
The Situation :
The situation or the context in which we see objects or events is important to shape our perception. The presence of a policeman near the police station hardly draws any attention, but if one is found in your classroom will certainly be the topic of the day. The word terminal‘ can be perceived quite differently in the context of say, the ICU of a hospital, an airport or the computer lab.
Our perceptions of people differ from the perceptions of inanimate objects like tables, chairs, books, pencil, etc. mainly because we are prone to make inferences regarding the intentions of people and thus form the judgment about them. The perceptions and judgments regarding a person‘s actions are often significantly influenced by the assumptions we make about the person‘s internal state. Attribution theory refers to the ways in which we judge people differently, depending on what meaning we attribute to a given behavior. Whenever we observe the behavior of an individual, we attempt to determine whether it was internally or externally caused. Internally caused behaviors are those that are believed to be under the personal control of the individual or have been done deliberately by him. Externally caused behavior is seen as resulting from outside causes, that is the person is seen as having been compelled to behave in a particular way by the force of the situation, and not because of his own choice. When after repeated requests your friend failed to turn up at the special old school boys‘ meet you might ascribe his absence as a deliberate move on his part, and you will feel hurt since it appeared that he is quite unconcerned and careless about your feeling. But if someone now points out about his recent increased responsibilities in the business after his father‘s untimely death and acute time shortage, you tend to condone him as you are now ascribing his absence to the external factors.
The determination of internally or externally caused behavior depends chiefly on the following three factors :
Distinctiveness which refers to whether an individual displays different behavior at different situations. If the behavior (say being late in the class on a particular day) is unusual, we tend to give the behavior an external attribution; and if it usual, the reverse.
Consensus refers to the uniformity of the behavior shown by all the concerned people. If everyone reports late on a particular morning, it is easily assumed that there must be a severe traffic disruption in the city and thus the behavior is externally attributed. But if the consensus is low, it is internally attributed.
Consistency is the reverse of distinctiveness. Thus in judging the behavior of an individual, the person looks at his past record. If the present behavior is consistently found to occur in the past as well (that is being late at least three times a week), it is attributed as internally caused. In other words, the more consistent the behavior, the more the observer is inclined to attribute it to external causes.
There are often some errors or biases in our judgment about others. When we make the judgment about other people‘s behavior, we tend to underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal or personal factors. This is called fundamental attribution error. Another noticeable tendency, called self-serving bias, refers to the inclination for individuals to attribute their own successes to internal factors while putting the blame for failures on external factors.
Self-fulfilling Prophecy or Pygmalion Effect :
An interesting aspect of people perception is the fact that people‘s expectations are often found to determine the actual performance level. If a manager expects an excellent level of performance from his subordinates, chances are quite high that they will actually reach up to his expectation and will make impossible possible. Surely the contrary is also true. If you feel your subordinates are a worthless bunch of people, they will only prove the same.
Selective Perception :
People have a tendency to selectively interpret what they see on the basis of their interests, background, experiences, and attitudes. We hardly have either time or inclination to process all the relevant inputs and we automatically select a few. Naturally, chances are there to miss some important clues in the process.
Ex-Halo Effect :
It refers to the tendency of forming a general impression about an individual on the basis of a single characteristic. The smartly dressed guy who is very fluent in English often tends to create a favorable impression on the interviewer even when the job is an accountant or engineer, requiring little or no verbal fluency.
Contrast Effect :
It refers to the process of rating individuals in the light of other people‘s performance which is close in time frame. You might be rated excellent in your project presentation if your predecessor makes a mess in his presentation. The case would have been just the reverse if you were to present just after a superb presentation!
It is the process of judging someone on the basis of one‘s perception of the group to which that perception belongs to. Common examples include the debate regarding the effectiveness of a lady doctor or manager or MBA‘S from prestigious B-schools.
Attributions are found to strongly affect various functions in an organization, e.g. the process of employee performance evaluations, nature of supervision or guidance or the general attitude towards the organization in general. As mentioned earlier, we also tend to make various types of errors while judging others. A few of the frequently committed mistakes are given below :