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Theories of Perception and Perception in the Workplace

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2869 words Published: 16th Apr 2018

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Perception can be termed as the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. It can be understood as the way in which something is regarded, understood and interpreted. In our day to day activities we perceive things constantly. “Perception” is a process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment.

Various authors have defined Perception as follows :

“The best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched…but are felt in the heart”

– Hellen Keller

“To begin with, our perception of the world is deformed, incomplete. Then our memory is selective. Finally, writing transforms.”

– Claude Simon

Perception includes our five senses i.e. touch, sight, taste smell and taste. It also involves the cognitive processes required to process information, such as recognizing the face of a friend or detecting a familiar scent. The perceptual process is a sequence of steps that begins with the environment and leads to our perception of a stimulus and an action in response to the stimulus. Most of the perception process takes place subconsciously.

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However what we perceive can be substantially different from objective reality. For example, we may view our workplace as a great place to work – favourable working conditions, interesting job assignments, good pay, excellent benefits, understanding and responsible management – but someone else may have a different view point than ours. This is due to the difference in our way of thinking or ‘perception’.

The Perception Process consists of Three Steps:

They are:

  1. Selection
  2. Organization
  3. Interpretation

1. Selection

Selection is the process by which we attend to some things in our environment and not others. Because we are exposed to infinitely more data than we can possibly manage, the first thing our brain helps us do is select the data we want to attend to. Many things affect what data we select out of the environment to attend to, but this is primarily a matter of contrast: we are attracted to larger things against a smaller background and vice versa; things that move against a still background, and vice versa; things that repeat, things that are familiar in a strange environment, things that are different in a familiar environment, etc. For example if we are walking around a park we may focus on the swings and not the lake. This is due to the fact that we want to focus on the swings because we give greater importance to it.

2. Organization

While we may have selected out and attended to particular data in the environment, many messages are still ambiguous – that is, we can ‘‘arrange’’ the data in more than one way. We all can remember from some training exercise or psychology class those pictures and images that challenged your perceptual abilities – like the one that is both the old haggardly woman and the beautiful young woman with a hat – but not at the same time? There are others that are common – lines that are both bent and parallel; grey spots that appear between squares, but are not ‘‘really’’ there in the physical data? That’s the same issue plaguing us. Importantly however, notice that in all cases, we cannot see the competing sets of stimuli at the same time. We cannot see the old woman and the young woman at the same time; we cannot see the lines as parallel unless we are told to look; we cannot see how the man continually ascends the staircase unless we look for other data. The fact that we see one thing and not the other is the way perception works in conflict. Of course, it’s the same physical picture for everyone, so what explains the discrepancy in ‘‘reality’’? Again, the same picture for everyone – the physical data don’t run around and rearrange themselves when we blink – so why don’t we see the same thing?

3. Interpretation

The final perceptual process is interpretation, where we attach an assessment or evaluation to the data, or derive a particular understanding of the data. Our interpretations, as do our organizing schema, come from our mental models or frames of reference. Past experiences play an important role in how we interpret data, as well as our assumptions about human nature, and our expectations about people, things and events. How we interpret data is also influenced by personal mood, as well as ‘‘closure’’, which allows us to add finishing touches to an experience to reduce any uncertainty about the data. It is what allows us to finish another person’s sentence for them, or generalize what another person must be like based on what they are wearing or something they say.

Various Studies Conducted on Perception

There have been many research and studies done on Perception. Some of them are detailed below:

1. Self Perception Theory

Self-perception theory (SPT) is an account of attitude formation developed by psychologist Daryl Bem (1972).According to self-perception theory, people come to know themselves in the same way that they come to know others. They observe their own behaviors in a variety of situations and then they make attributions about their behaviors.

Of course, people are free to make so-called fundamental attribution errors. Most of the time we prefer to attribute the causes of behaviors in others to personality traits or internal factors, rather than situational ones. We tend to think that another person’s actions are caused by something within, rather than being caused by circumstances, or external, situational factors. The personality traits to which we attribute our own behaviors can be seen as self-definitions. This is especially true in the context of narratives about ourselves in psychotherapy.

It may be useful to outline specifically how self-definition operates in counselling and psychotherapy. Such a model can serve to identify the stages of the process. It should also point out a basis for the reciprocal nature of therapy.

Here is a proposed six-step outline of the self-definition process in counselling and psychotherapy. In a psychotherapy experience, people learn about themselves by observing their own behaviors:

  • They observe and attend to the things they say about themselves in counselling sessions.
  • The therapist encourages new behaviors, including new recognitions of feelings, new experiences and new cognitions.
  • People then try out new behaviors, both in and out of the counselling sessions.
  • With the counsellor’s help, they reflect on these new behaviors: What do these behaviors say about their self-definitions?
  • They then redefine their selves according to their new behaviors.
  • Feedback from others, including the counsellor and other members in a group counselling setting, allows them to monitor the changes.

It may be that when this sequence occurs, therapists quite often notice that the therapy is “working.” Perhaps good counselling and psychotherapy experiences can be best understood as instances of heightened self-perception.

2. Extrasensory Perception

Extrasensory perception or ESP refers to the sixth sense in an individual. It was coined by Dr. J. B. Rhine to denote psychic abilities. These psychic abilities included telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience and precognition or retro cognition associated with them. He believed that individuals perceive using their mind senses rather than the physical senses.

Experiments and Findings

Ina Jephson (1920) was one of the first person to conduct a study using cards on ESP. She reported mixed findings across two studies. G.N.M. Tyrrell conducted further experiments using target-selection and data-recording to guess the location of a point of light in future. Other experiments of paranormal cognition and ability to retrieve information through token objects were conducted by Whateley Carington and J. Hettinger respectively.

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In the 1960s, cognitive psychologyandhumanistic psychology were the centre of development. Therefore in line with them, parapsychologists became increasingly interested in the cognitive components of ESP, the subjective experience involved in making ESP responses, and the role of ESP in psychological life. Memory, for instance, was offered as a better model of psi than perception. This called for experimental procedures that were not limited to Rhine’s favoured forced-choice methodology. Free-response measures, such as used by Carington in the 1930s, were developed with attempts to raise the sensitivity of participants to their cognitions. These procedures included relaxation, meditation, REM-sleep, and the Ganzfeld (a mild sensory deprivation procedure).

3. Gregory (1970) and Top Down Processing

Psychologist Richard Gregory (1970) believed that perception is a hypothesis. Heargued that perception is a constructive process. It relies on the approach of top down processing. For Gregory was of the opinion that perception involves making inferences and best guesses from what we see.He argued that people perceive using their past experiences as an anchor in his approach.

When we see something, we develop a perceptual hypothesis based on prior knowledge. The hypotheses we develop are nearly always correct. However, on rare occasions, perceptual hypotheses can be disconfirmed by the data we perceive.

4. Gibson (1966) and Bottom Up Processing

James Gibson (1966) criticized Gregory’s discussion citing it as artificial and of having no relevance in the real world. It is important to note that Gregory noted these as exceptions in his theory rather than a norm.

Gibson was of the opinion that perception is direct. He believed that there is enough information in our environment to perceive directly.Gibson thought that perception is sensation and we get what we see. He believed that the information we receive about our environment w.r.t. to shape, distance, size, etc. is sufficiently detailed for us to form our own perception.

For example, Gibson’s support of the argument that perception is direct is parallax motion. As we move through our environment, objects which are close to us pass us by faster than those further away. This is most recognisable when we are moving in a fast car.

Emerging trends and Challenges globally and in India

Factors Affecting Perception in Workplace

There are various factors that can affect an individual’s perception in a workplace. These factors are responsible for the difference in attitudes among employees, absenteeism, turnaround, job satisfaction etc. The various factors are :

  1. Stereotyping: We sometimes see stereotyping in an organisation based on an employee’s field of work. The most common example is that of white-collar employees and blue-collar employees. The employees from both these stratas have a different perception of each other simply because the kind of work they do. Though both are contributing towards the growth of the organisation but stereotyping brings different perceptions among them
  2. Personal problems: Many a times the personal problems of a worker finds its way into his/her work life. These problems can include death, divorce, pregnancy etc. A worker going through a personal problem may be grateful that he has a job atleast and works hard to retain the same. On the other hand he sees is colleague as not being so grateful and perceives him/her as lazy.
  3. Cultural Difference: Cultural Differences may play a major role in development of perceptions among individuals. These occur due to the upbringing and the past experience of an individual. Asian employees have a tendency to focus more on the relationship with their employer compared to their western counterparts. In America and Britain the emphasis on time management which is secondary to Indian employees.
  4. Management Styles: If a manager does not interfere in the subordinate’s work and maintains a distance between them he may be perceived as one who does not care about the employees or their work. However if he interferes, he may be thought to be a person who does not trust anybody.
  5. Gender Bias: Gender bias and sexual harassment are burning issues that plague all organizations today. What constitutes sexual harassment and what does not is widely influenced by perception. Macabe and Hardman conducted a survey in Australia on sexual harassment and found that white-collar workers perceive and report sexual harassment more than blue-collar ones. The survey found that in white-collar organizations, most women experience sexual harassment. While men were more tolerant than women, women who had experienced it were most likely to report it. In blue-collar organizations, the type of harassment and the people most likely to report it were same but there were no gender differences as far as sexual harassment is concerned.


Perception is the way we perceive people, objects and events. A number of factors operate to shape and sometimes distort perception. These factors can reside in the perceiver; in the object, or target, being perceived; or in the context of the situation in which the perception is made.

When we look at a target and attempt to interpret what we see, our interpretation is heavily influenced by your personal characteristics – our attitudes, personality, motives, interests, past experiences, and expectations. For instance, if we expect police officers to be authoritative or young people to be lazy, we may perceive them as such, regardless of their actual traits.

The Perception theories too are not cent percent applicable in all cases. This is due to the fact that each individual is different and he has a separate way of thinking. I would like to conclude by saying that Perception is about “PERCEIVING” and it depends on the individual.



Robbins , Judge and Vohra (2013) Organisational Behaviour – Perception and Individual Decision Making

In-text reference : (Robbin, Judge and Vohra,2013)


R. Michael Boneko (2011). Learning in conflict: revisiting the role of perception Development and Learning & Organizations – VOL. 25 NO. 2 2011, pp. 15-17, In-text reference : (R.Michael Boneko, 2011)

Rostylsaw W. Robak (2001). Self-Definition in Psychotherapy: Is it Time to Revisit Self-Perception Theory? North American Journal of Psychology, 15277143, 2001, Vol. 3, Issue 3 In-text reference : (Rostylsaw W. Robak, 2001)

Ellis, A. (2000). Rational emotive behavior therapy. In R. J. Corsini & D. Wedding (Eds.), Current Psychotherapies (6[supth] ed., pp. 168–204). Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock Publishers. In-text reference : (Ellis, A. ,2000)


Kendra Cherry – Perception and the Perceptual Process. Retrieved from the website : http://psychology.about.com/od/sensationandperception/ss/ In-text reference : (Kendra Cherry)

Boundless Psychology – Sensation and Perception Retrieved from the website: https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/sensation-and-perception-5/the-basics-of-perception-39/selection-168-12703/ In-text reference : (Boundless Psychology)

Wikipedia – Perception Theories Retrieved from the website : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/perception-theories.html In-text reference : (Perception Theories)


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