Factors Influencing Perception
Perception is our sensory experience of the world around us and involves both the recognition of environmental stimuli and actions in response to these stimuli. Through the perceptual process, we gain information about properties and elements of the environment that are critical to our survival. Perception not only creates our experience of the world around us; it allows us to act within our environment.
A number of factors operate to shape and sometimes distort perception. These factors can reside:
i) In the perceiver.
ii) In the object or target being perceived or
iii) In the context of the situation in which the perception is made.
1. Characteristics of the Perceiver: Several characteristics of the perceiver can affect perception. When an individual looks at a target and attempts to interpret what he or she stands for, that interpretation is heavily influenced by personal characteristics of the individual perceiver. The major characteristics of the perceiver influencing perception are:
a) Attitudes: The perceiver’s attitudes affect perception. For example, suppose Mr. X is interviewing candidates for a very important position in his organization – a position that requires negotiating contracts with suppliers, most of whom are male. Mr X may feel that women are not capable of holding their own in tough negotiations. This attitude will doubtless affect his perceptions of the female candidates he interviews.
b) Moods: Moods can have a strong influence on the way we perceive someone. We think differently when we are happy than we do when we are depressed. In addition, we remember information that is consistent with our mood state better than information that is inconsistent with our mood state. When in a positive mood, we form more positive impressions of others. When in a negative mood, we tend to evaluate others unfavourably.
c) Motives: Unsatisfied needs or motives stimulate individuals and may exert a strong influence on their perceptions. For example, in an organizational context, a boss who is insecure perceives a subordinate’s efforts to do an outstanding job as a threat to his or her own position. Personal insecurity can be translated into the perception that others are out to "get my job", regardless of the intention of the subordinates.
d) Self-Concept: Another factor that can affect social perception is the perceivers’ self-concept. An individual with a positive self-concept tends to notice positive attributes in another person. In contrast, a negative self-concept can lead a perceiver to pick out negative traits in another person. Greater understanding of self allows us to have more accurate perceptions of others.
e) Interest: The focus of our attention appears to be influenced by our interests. Because our individual interests differ considerably, what one person notices in a situation can differ from what others perceive. For example, the supervisor who has just been reprimanded by his boss for coming late is more likely to notice his colleagues coming late tomorrow than he did last week. If you are preoccupied with a personal problem, you may find it hard to be attentive in class.
f) Cognitive Structure: Cognitive structure, an individual’s pattern of thinking, also affects perception. Some people have a tendency to perceive physical traits, such as height, weight, and appearance, more readily. Others tend to focus more on central traits, or personality dispositions. Cognitive complexity allows a person to perceive multiple characteristics of another person rather than attending to just a few traits.
g) Expectations: Finally, expectations can distort your perceptions in that you will see what you expect to see. The research findings of the study conducted by Sheldon S Zalkind and Timothy W Costello on some specific characteristics of the perceiver reveal
· Knowing oneself makes it easier to see others accurately.
· One’s own characteristics affect the characteristics one is likely to see in others.
· People who accept themselves are more likely to be able to see favourable aspects of other people.
· Accuracy in perceiving others is not a single skill.
These four characteristics greatly influence how a person perceives others in the environmental situation.
Characteristics of the Target: Characteristics in the target that is being observed can affect what is perceived. Physical appearance plays a big role in our perception of others. Extremely attractive or unattractive individuals are more likely to be noticed in a group than ordinary looking individuals. Motion, sound, size and other attributes of a target shape the way we see it.The perceiver will notice the target’s physical features like height, weight, estimated age, race and gender. Perceivers tend to notice physical appearance characteristics that contrast with the norm, that are intense, or that are new or unusual. Physical attractiveness often colours our entire impression of another person. Interviewers rate attractive candidates more favourably and attractive candidates are awarded higher starting salaries.
Verbal communication from targets also affects our perception of them. We listen to the topics they speak about, their voice tone, and their accent and make judgements based on this input. Non-verbal communication conveys a great deal of information about the target. The perceiver deciphers eye contact, facial expressions, body movements, and posture all in an attempt to form an impression of the target .As a result of physical or time proximity, we often put together objects or events that are unrelated.
For example, employees in a particular department are seen as a group. If two employees of a department suddenly resign, we tend to assume their departures were related when in fact, they might be totally unrelated. People, objects or events that are similar to each other also tend to be grouped together. The greater the similarity, the greater the probability we will tend to perceive them as a group.
Characteristics of the Situation: The situation in which the interaction between the perceiver and the target takes place, has an influence on the perceiver’s impression of the target. E.g. meeting a manager in his or her office affects your impression in a certain way that may contrast with the impression you would have formed, had you met the manager in a restaurant. The strength of the situational cues also affects social perception. Some situations provide strong cues as to appropriate behaviour. In these situations, we assume that ±ie individual’s behaviour can be accounted for by the situation, and that it may not reflect the individual’s disposition. This is the discounting principle in social perception. For example, you may encounter an automobile salesperson who has a warm and personable manner, asks you about your work and hobbies, and seems genuinely interested in your taste in cars. Can you assume that this behaviour reflects the salesperson’s personality? You probably cannot, because of the influence of the situation. This person is trying to sell you a car, and in this particular situation, he probably treats all customers in this manner.