What is Perception? Definition, Process, and Affecting Factors

What is Perception?

Perception is the process through which we select, organize, and interpret our sensations in a meaningful way. It starts when we see any objects in the environment around us. The perceiving way of two-person probably can not be the same.


It is our five senses: eye, ear, nose, mouth, and skin through which we can perceive the world. Perception is the process of organizing and attempting to understand the sensory stimulation we receive. When the receptors are stimulated, information can be transmitted to the brain causing sensation then perception.

Psychologists refer to perception as a top-down process because they have constructed not only based on what our senses detect but also our experiences and expectations. If the receptors do not receive stimulation from the environment or are unable to process the information they receive, no information is transmitted and perception does not occur.

In our everyday experience, sensation, and perception blend into a continuous process. Failures of perception may occur anywhere between sensory detection to perceptual interpretation. For example, people who are color-blind can not tell from their perception of color when a traffic light is red or when it is green because they can not sense color information, they depend on the brightness and position cues to determine the color of the signal.

Similarly, a person with brain damage in the temporal area is important to recognize suffer from a disease known as “prosopagnosia” where the individual has complete sensation but incomplete perception. He can sense visual information to report the features of the face, but can not recognize it. Shown an unfamiliar face he is unresponsive. Shown a familiar person he is not sure who the person is. If shown his own face in a mirror, he is unable to process top-down, that is, he can not relate his stored knowledge to the sensory input.

Thus, in perception, the simple process is to activate the receptor and then transmit the information to the brain to make sense of it i.e. interpretation.

Process of Perception

The mechanism involved in perceiving the behavior, experience, or any response is a very complex and selective process. Individuals differences are seen in the perceptual process. Receptor functions play a dominant role, but other functions are also involved in it.

To complete the process of perception following processes are involved:

process of perception

Receptor Process

Receptors are the specialized cells of the nervous system that are sensitive to stimuli. The presence of several receptors located in the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin, etc. in our body gives the knowledge of sensory stimulation. When the information reaches the receptors the response of these cells is called the receptor process.

For example, you saw your bosom friend called you. Seeing her, your receptors of the eyes the rods, and cones in the retina become active, hearing the sound the auditory receptor on the basilar membrane becomes active to transfer the information and give it meaning. Similarly, shaking hands with her activates the cutaneous receptors, the smell of her perfumes arouses cilia of the olfactory receptor, and so on.

The receptors can be activated simultaneously. But the perception is limited to a particular receptor process. For example, when a friend calls you, and at the same time your mobile rings, which one is to be attended to? You will consider the preference first and then attend the other.

Symbolic Process

Perception involves more than simply activating the receptor cells. Mental images of different odors, ideas, signs, symbols, shapes, impressive words, memories, concepts, in the brain are used in perception as a substitute for an actual object. The thought or activity helps in a symbolic way to process selective response. The previous experiences can be recalled even if it ceases to be present.

For example, you lost a bunch of keys. You try to remember all the activities you have carried out during the day and the places you have been located to the key, this was possible only with the help of the symbolic process.

Symbolic processes in the absence of actual events help to perceive the situation. Symbolic images are formed by the neural activity of the sense organs in the nervous system in the absence of actual activity or stimuli. Once an engram is formed it can later be used symbolically as an experience.

Affective Process

The affective process reminds the emotion attached to a stimulus. While perceiving we do not only have the images of an object but also its impression as pleasant-unpleasant, liked -disliked, interesting-uninteresting, love-hate, for or against, or perhaps none of these. The affective process is the feelings, sentiments attached to an object or person.

Can you recall the most pleasant or unpleasant experience that happens in your life? Why do you call it pleasant or unpleasant, because it is attached to the affective perception of the situation? The affective process overlaps the recall of the experience of receptor and symbolic functions. For example, needle prick, scolding, electric shock, aggression, hatred, sickness produce the feeling of unpleasantness. All these affective processes depend upon past experiences.

Also, for example, the odor of cooked chicken may be pleasant to some who are fond of its taste and unpleasant to many others who dislike it or are pure vegetarians.

Unification Process

The last process of perception is the unification process. The interpretation of the meaning of something that we have perceived is not possible only with receptor, symbolic, affective processes alone but also their united effort. The unification process states that all the processes of perception are needed to have a clear picture and understanding of what we perceive. The perception depends upon the arousal of the receptor, symbolic, and affective processes, altogether this is called the unification process.

For example, shaking hands with a friend arouses different sensations involving visual, auditory, cutaneous, and a particular odor sensation (receptor process). You recall the meeting with him for the first time (symbolic). You liked the friend and want to meet him from time to time (affective). All these processes work together to give you knowledge and understanding about your friend is the unification process.

Factors Influencing Perception

There are individual differences in persons. They perceive the same thing differently. It is caused by several factors. The information we obtain from the environment and the personal characteristics of an individual lead us to act in that particular way. The major factors affecting perception are:

  • The Perceiver
  • The Target
  • The Situation

The Perceiver

The biological characteristics such as age, gender, marital status, professional residence, etc. as well as the personal characteristics of an individual are important agents in determining the person’s perception. The personal factors are:

  • Attitudes – Attitudes are the belief system that directs thinking, feeling, and actions of people. It is revealed in the expression of how much we like or dislike, pro or anti, favoring or not favoring, and positive or negative or neutral about various things.
  • Motives – Motives are the internal state of the organism which is goal-directed. It aims toward values, interests, and psychological status.
  • Interests – Interests are the mental focus to capture the portion of the stimuli and ignoring other aspects.
  • Emotions – Emotion affects perception. When we perceive the emotional responses of other people, we respond in an appropriate way.
  • Past Experiences – Past experiences are very influential in the development of personal traits like attitudes, values, interests, and prejudices.
  • Expectation or Set – The general readiness to perceive the environment in a certain manner influences manner. Such expectations or sets vary from person to person.

The Target

The target, not only the characteristics of the perceiver are influential in perceiving the stimuli but also the characteristics of the target that is being observed can affect what is perceived. These characteristics may be:

  • Attractiveness or Unattractiveness – refers to the extent to which we like or dislike other objects or people.
  • Motion – Motion creates attractions. Movies, televisions, DVDs, all create the perception of motion from a series of pictures.
  • Proximity – It is an important determinant of perception because it encourages interaction and repeated exposure.
  • Similarity – Those objects or persons or events which are similar to each other tend to perceive in a group together.

The Situation

There are different objects and events in the environment which influence our perception. The way we deal with the environment depends upon our perception of the time, context, temperature, location, light, work, and social setting, etc.

For example, we can not put heavy dressing materials while we attend the funeral, but we may do that at the wedding party because the situation is different.

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