Perception: Concept, Definition, Illusions And Factors Influencing Perception

Our immediate experience of the world around us by the means of our sensory Systems is called perception. The inputs given by the sensory systems are often organized, transformed, and elaborated to enable us interpret and perceive the world and the objects there in, as we understand them.

Psychology, as its definition goes, is the scientific study of human and animal behaviours. One factor that is fundamental is determining and the understanding of behaviour is perception. All human activities are made possible as a result of perception. Human learning and experiences are the outcome of perception. How we see people and how they see us, and how we behave toward them and their own behaviour toward us, are based on our perception of them and their perception of us.

Definitions Of Perception

Perception has been defined in various ways by different psychologists without contradicting the ideas or the meaning the terms tries to convey.

In the words of Philip G. Zimbardo, “Perception is the process through which organisms interpret their environment by means of their senses”.

According to Dennis Coon, perception is the “Process of meaningfully organizing sensation”.

Robert S. Woodworth opined that perception is the process of getting to know object and objective facts by use of the senses”.

From the afforegone definitions, one can deduce that perception is the way we interpret and undertand our environment and the happenings around us through the information that filter into our sensory systems. The first step toward perception is sensation, which is the reception of stimulation from the environment.

The different ways people interpret or perceive their environment and the happenings thereof go a long way to explain their individual differences in behaviour. Because our perception is influenced by many factors, sometimes, what we perceive fall short of the real representation of the object or facts in focus. This shows that our perception sometimes depends on processes that go far beyond the “raw information” provided by our sensory systems.

Factors Influencing Perception

The following are some of the known factors or conditions that influence perception:

1. Experience: The level and extent of our experience go a long way to determine the way we perceive or interpret any information that our physical or abstract environment present to us through our sensory systems. It may not be an over statement to say that every other factor that influences our perception depends on experience because it enables us to develop signs or cues of objects or information related to them in our minds. For instance, we may perceive our friends as either good or bad depending on our experiences with them.

2. Culture: Our cultural background is one other important factor that influences the way we perceive or interpret events or information around us. For instance, in Japanese or Indian culture, suicide is not seen as abnormal. It is even used to express heroism, or even love for a dear one, or an expression of disgust for life. In most African cultures, it is seen as a taboo, and is sometimes attributed to evil forces.

3. Education: Our educational background also has great influence on the way we look at things around us and the interpretation we give to them. For instance, a person with communist oriented type of education will perceive owning a private university as a capitalist tendency and exploitation of others; but a person with capitalist orientation will see it as a means of boosting government efforst in providing education to the people, and a way of encouraging private enterprise.

Besides the above factors, there are also some other conditions, such as religion, expectancy, interest, belief, opinion of others, prejudies, etc.. Which influence our preception and the interpretations we give to events and the happenings around us.

Many Pyschologists try to draw some distinctions between structural and funtional determinants of perception. In the former, they include the nature of physical stimuli and the neural effects such stimuli arouse in receptors and the nervous system. The latter, i.e. the functional determinants, are said to be derived from needs, interests, attitudes, past experiences and social values of the person concerned.

A number of studies have been carried out to demonstrate the effects of such factors in perception. In one of such studies, half-starved youn men perceived only food objects as even bigger than they really were. In another experiment, it was found that children from poorer homes over-estimated the size of a coin more than their counter-parts from wealthy homes.

Objective Factors In Perceptual Organization

In addition to the factors highlighted above, there are also some other objective factors which are very important in organizing our environmental stimuli for perception. Several of such factors are part and parcel of the environment while others are within the individual himself.

The following are the major factors that determine our perceptual organization in the field of perception;

1. Figure And Ground: Any figure or object standing out on the ground stands out prominently from an extensive ground. The moon at night, for instancem stands clearly against the extensive background of the sky, just as the clock stands out clearly on the wall. The ship sailing on the sea, stands out prominently against the large expanse of the sea water as also a white spot on a black or blue background of a cloth. In the familiar case of an object standing out on a background, the ground seems to extend beyond the actual object.

In the drawings used by Psychologists in investigating the figure-ground determinant of perception, they have found out that the object to be perceived need not be a familiar one, provided its shape is visible. It may also be comparatively large; it will be perceived so long as it has a definite organized shape that holds its parts together.

The figure and ground factor is always exploited by soldiers in the battle front to hide their weapon and men from the enemy in the bush through camouflage.

In such a case, it become very difficult to identify the figure from the ground, unless the object shifts or makes a move. This is particularly so when the figure naturally blends with the background. A typical example is a green snake on a background of green field.

Even in sound perception, the figure and ground principle also applies. For instance, a mother easily perceives and identifies the cry of her child against a noisy background of other sounds. Similarly, in the perception of smell, a strong perfume is easily perceived from the background in an open air.

2. Building Up A Figure By Combining Parts: When the perceptual field is jumbled with meaningless stimuli or disorganized pieces of materials without any familiar objects, such pieces could be combined in many ways into various shapes. Psychologists generally make use of the following stimulus factors under such situtions;

i. Proximity: Dots or pieces of materials that lie very close or are near to the other, are usually combined into a group, while the ones that lie apart tend to fall into different groups.

ii. Similarity Or Resemblance: Dots or materials that have resemblance either in shape, colour or form, are easily grouped or combined together for perception. A collection of jumbled dots or other materials naturally breaks up into two or more combinations when there is distinction in terms of their shape, colour or size.

iii. Continuity: Dots or objects that lie along the same vertical or horizontal lines or a regular curve, are easily seen in combination

Illusions Or Errors In Perception

An illusion consists in getting a false impression of the objective facts that are presented to our sensory system. In such a situation, the stimulus may become ambiguous or misleading and the observer gets a wrong meaning from the signs or cues received due to certain biases and prejudices like individual’s desiresm wishes, emotions or sentiments. Thus, some of such errors in perception or illusions may be as a result of external, physical causes, and some due to factors within the observer himself.

We therefore say that illusions are perceptions in which objective facts are misinterpreted, and as cuh, fail to reveal the true picture of the object or issue under observation due to certain factors either inherent in the observer or some physical factors in the environment. In this case, illusions may be classified on the basis of their causes as follows:

1. Illusions Due To Physical Causes

We can draw a very good example of this type of illusion from the mirror illusion. A mirrored object seems to be perceived behind the mirror due to the fact that light reflects from that direction. Another example is that of the motion picture. A series of stationary pictures each slightly different from the preceding one, when flashed on the screen at rapid succession of twenty-four pictures per second, the movement of the pictures on the screen appear very convincing; though there is no real movement.

2. Illusions Due To Habit And Familiarity

Due to habit or familiarity with certain stimuli we are very used to, we have the tendency to interpret any other stimuli or objects that have resemblance with the onew we are used to in the same way.

This type of illusion is subjective and it’s due to the habit of the observer. The investigation of this type of illusion dates back to Aristotle (330 B.C.). Cross two fingers and touch a marble or a pencil with the crossed part of the both fingers, you seem to be feeling two marbles or pencils instead of one.

3. Illusion Causes By Mental And Expectancy

When one is mentally set and ready to perceive certain fact, he is likely to mistake the wrong stimuli as the signs of the fact. For instance, a person passing through a graveyard in the dark with the fear of ghost in mind is bound to mistake even the shadow of a tree as a ghost.

4. Illusions Due To Unanalyzed Total Impressions

The stimuli in the environment may be so complex that it becomes difficult to get all details about it without proper analysis at one impression. In this case whatever we perceive of such object or fact will be erroneous. A lot of studies have been carried out by Psychologists on these types of illusion. A famous example is the Muller Lyer figure illusion in which two objectively equal lines or distances are embedded in the total figure that the observer is led astray in his observation.

Another simple example of this type of illusion is a person lying on the floor seems short, but appears taller while standing on his feet.

Illusion of this type is of practical importance to the architect, dress designer and those who do construction work and those who must rely on accurate measurement for the success of what they produce. This is so because an oblique line or complication of any sort is bound to alter the actual proportions of an object.

5. Another type of illusion is the one due to sensory defects or the nature of sense organ. A person suffering from jaundice perceives every object as yellow, just as a colour-blind person is unable to perceive objects of red and green colour; they appear to him as gray.

Inference Which Can Be Drawn From The Study Of Illusions

Based on the different classes of illusions as discussed above, poor observation results from the following:

  • Misleading stimuli
  • Influence of habit and negligence of new impressions
  • Pre-occupation and bias (subjective observation based on sentiment)
  • Satisfaction with total or general impressions
  • Sensory defects and even drugs influence.

A good observer who want to correctly interpret or perceive objective facts must then be on his guard against these sources of error. In observing his friend, for example, the good observer must know whether his friend does not sometimes mislead him by pretending to be pleased while really feeling displeased. The good observer in this case, then, must be alert to slight changes in the already known behaviour of his friend, but at the same time, guard against his own bias or sentiment in the form of doubt, suspicion, unpleasant experiences with the friend, or in form of complacency. For accurate perception of a situation of object, the observer must sometimes be specific and analytical instead of taking everything for granted.

Once the misleading stimuli that can lead to error of perception are known, it is very easy to use them to one’s advantage. Therefore, what a good observer needs for correct perception of facts or situation is some level of flexibility, so that he can easily swing to the total impression, or to the analysis of details, as the occasion my warrant.

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