Perception and Communication Lecture by Derek R. Lane January 26, 2005

Perception and
Lecture by Derek R. Lane
Adapted from Alan D. DeSantis
January 26, 2005
I know that you believe
you understand what
you think I said, but, I
am not sure you
realize that what you
heard is not what I
Perception defined
Influences of perception
Four stages of perception
Pitfalls to accurate perception
Perception Defined
• The process by which we become aware of objects and
events in the external world.
• The process of making sense of the world around us.
• Many people ignore the fact that all of us are different
and that these differences equip us to view the world
from our very own vantage points. Usually we spend
more energy defending our own position than
understanding others.
Where does the triangle begin?
Influences on Perception
• Physiological (biological, neurological) Influences
– Senses, age, health, fatigue, hunger, biological cycles
• Social Influences
– Cultural Differences
• Nonverbal behaviors, odors, speech, silence, space
– Social Roles
• Sex roles, gender roles, occupational roles
– Self-Concept
• Self-esteem, locus of control, attribution (attaching meaning to
• Perception is the process of making
sense of the world around us
– Also called informational or cognitive
• Perception is influenced by two factors:
– Biological/Neurological—How we are
• Universal to all humans
– Social—The different social influences in our
• Differs in all humans (men vs. women; US vs.
Japan; 12th vs. 21st Century)
• It is important we understand this
process if we are to become smart,
competent communicators
– It is the “thing” that happens before we even
open our mouths
• There are four stages of perception
– (if we could slow it down for examination)
Stage 1: Selection
• Life is a process of selecting
• We are confronted with millions of
pieces of stimuli each day (1,500
advertisements alone)
• Factors That Influence Our Selection
• A. Interest (College Basketball, Movies, Music)
• B. Need (lectures, traffic lights, buying 1st car)
• C. Aesthetics (noise, movement, color)
– What advertisers, marketers, & designers do
• D. Biology (sensation seeking, ADHD, circadian
• Sesame St. Syndrome
• Educators competing with the media—and
Bad Elmo
Stage 2: Organization
• To eliminate the chaos of life (entropy) and help
make sense of the world, we simplify and reduce
our world
• We put our “selected” data in cognitive “folders”
– Also called: Schematas or Cognitive Frameworks
• Three Principles of Organization:
– A) Binary Opposition (all things in pairs)
• male/female, short/tall, white/black, good/bad
– B) Already formed social categories
• 101 students, sorority sisters, UK basketball
players, Italians
– C) We also organize by similarities
Halloween Labs
• size (big buildings), color (things that are purple),
space (things from Hawaii), smell (things that
make us hungry), function (computer, phone, TV,
DVD, VCR, CD player, pager, palm)
How many Fs?
A Duck . . . Or a Rabbit?
Stage 3
• Next, we have to Evaluate the data in our
– Larger files (more complete and accurate)
– Smaller files (simplistic and underdeveloped)
• Our Comfort Zone:
– Not Comfortable with New or Small Folders
– We like our old, Big Folders (Basketball) and avoid
our small, underdeveloped folders (Sra Lanka)
– College Forces Us To Make New Folders
• Researchers now think that this is the reason
for racism and prejudice
Wonder Woman
– All that we know about Italians we have learned
from Mafia Movies, Dr. DeSantis, and the Olive
Young, or old?
Young, or old?
Native American . . . Or Eskimo?
Which line is longer?
Perfect Circle?
Count the black dots . . .
Ladder up… or down?
Which way is water flowing?
Stage 4
Retention and Memory
• We Don’t Retain All We Select!
– Photographic Memory & Hypnosis (still
not perfect)
• Factors That Influence Longterm Memory
– A) Recency of Time (today vs. 10
years from now)
– B) Frequency of Use (628-2254,
names, TV channels)
– C) Importance (test information, PIN
number, anniversary)
– D) Emotional Connection
– E) Weirdness/Uniqueness (sumo
wrestlers, 500 lbs. Dancer, Tool Videos)
A boy & his dog
Pitfalls to Accurate Perception
“I love the Yankees”
Pitfalls to Perception
• As much as we wish our minds
(and the process of perception) were
perfect, they are not
– Ask the police at a crime scene or
ex-lovers reflecting on “what went
• Some of our mistakes, however,
are due to our “biological
brain” playing tricks on us
(below the level of consciousness)
• If we know what they are, we
can prevent them!
• There are 5 major “biological”
Life After Politics
1) Impressions of Others
• A) First Impressions of others
– 1st impressions overwhelm 2nd & 3rd
• They tend to taint the rest of the interaction (for the
better or worse)
– Dougherty (1994) Job Interview Research
• Start strong is what matters!!
• B) Negative Impressions of others
– When people are aware of both positive and
negative qualities, we tend to be more influenced by
the negative
– “Bob is handsome, hardworking, intelligent and
honest. He’s also conceited”
• Did you keep Bob’s negative quality in perspective? 4
to 1 ratio!
– Kellermann (1989) Study:
• Interviewers were likely to reject candidates who
revealed any negative info
2) Halo & Devil Effect
• A) We select the first (positive or negative)
“obvious” or “dominant” characteristic of a
– Physical appearance, weight, personality,
wealth, clothing, regional accent, race, large
nose, glasses, nice shoes, etc.
• B) We then assign “accompanying”
positive or negative traits to that person
(that they have not earned)
– Halo--Attractive People: smart, happy, rich,
– Devil--Unattractive People: dumb, poor,
• C) Problem: We unfairly punish some
while rewarding others simply due to one
dominant trait we happen to notice
3) Selective Processes
• The mind likes consistency, simplicity, &
balance. Any information that could “disrupt
the peace” is seen as dangerous. Ergo, the
brain tries to restore balance:
– A. Selective Exposure
• We attend to messages that are in accord with
our already-held attitudes (conservative talk
• And avoid dissonance from other ideas
– B. Selective Retention
• We remember what is consistent with preexisting attitudes and interests
– C. Selective Perception
• We mentally recast messages so that they are
inline with our beliefs and attitudes
• Classic Study by Allport and Postman in 1945
4) Primary (first things) &
Recency (last things) Theory
• The mind privileges things that
come first and last in a set, list,
or encounter
– Job Interviews (never get stuck in
the middle)
– Beauty Pageants & Talent
Contests e.g. Greek Sing (statistics
show bookends are more likely win)
– Spelling Lists (the top & bottom are
– Movies (intros & conclusions stay with
– Human Encounters (see pitfall #1)
5) Self-Serving Bias
(AKA Fundamental Attribution Error)
• We alter our interpretations to favor ourselves
& to “cheat” others:
• Your Test Grade:
– When we do well, it is because of internal factors
• I worked hard--I’m smart
– When we do poorly, it is because of external
• Your professor hates you
• Others Test Grade:
– When others do well, it is because of external
• They got lucky--They were given special treatment
– When others do bad, it is because of internal
• They are stupid and lazy
5) Cont. Self-Serving Bias
• Rating Ourselves:
– 1) 95% of men believe = 50%
– 2) 90% of Americans believe =
50% attractive
– 3) American High School
students believe = Best at Math
& Science
The joys of parenthood
Perception defined
Influences of perception
Four stages of perception
Pitfalls to accurate perception
Have A Great Day!!!!