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What is Perception?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 1963 words Published: 28th Jul 2021

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Perception, according to Yolanda Williams, a psychology professor; can be defined as our way to recognize and interpret information we’ve gathered through our senses. This also includes how we respond to a certain situation with the given information (Williams). Psychology is the study of behavior and mental processes (Milnes). Perception relates to psychology because as discussed in the notes, psychology is the study of behavior and mental processes, while perception is how we react to situations. In other words, our behavior towards that situation.

Another word often associated with perception is sensation. They are often used interchangeably, however; sensation is the process of reevaluating information from the world into the brain (AlleyDog). We use our senses to detect and recognize something which then allows us to process the information and discover the emotions and react to the situation we see, which is perception.

There are two types of theories to perception, there is the self-perception theory, and the cognitive dissonance theory. There are many theories about different subjects in perception. There are also disorders that relate to perception even though you may think perception is just a person’s view point.

First, the self-perception theory, inspired by B. F. Skinner’s analyses, is when individuals come to “know” or better understand their own attitudes, emotions, and other personal states mostly by concluding them from observing their own behavior and/or the situations in which this behavior occurs. One example would be an individual who describes “butterflies in the stomach”. We have all identified this feeling for ourselves, on our own (Bem).

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The cognitive dissonance theory is a person having two thoughts that contradict each other. For example, a person that thinks eating sugar is bad for you, but then continues to eat sugar because they believe that by not eating sugar, it wouldn’t change anything, so nothing will change the current health the individual is in. These thoughts are contradicting, almost hypocritical. According to Leon Festinger, the existence of dissonance causes the individual to be psychologically uncomfortable, which then allows the individual to try to remain constant in his/her thoughts. Also, while the individual wants to become consistent, the individual will try to avoid situations that include that subject that causes dissonance (Festinger).

Like other things in psychology, there is a lot of science behind perception. One thing has to do with light and our eyes. When looking in a mirror, light bounces off your face, and then off the mirror, and then into your eyes. Your eyes then take in all that energy and transforms it into neural messages that your brain processes and organizes into what you actually see. As humans, we only see a small fraction of the full spectrum of electromagnetic radiation that ranges from gamma, to radio waves (Jenkins, Sensation & Perception).

Our eyes percept what we see based on wave lengths and amplitudes. Wave lengths and frequency determine their hue, for example, short wavelengths and high frequencies omit blueish colors, whereas long wavelengths and low frequencies omit reddish colors. The amplitude determines the intensity or brightness. Large amplitudes are bright colors, and small amplitudes are dull colors (Jenkins, Sensation & Perception).

After taking in light through the pupil and the cornea, it hits the transparent disc behind the pupil called the lens. This focuses the light rays into specific images, which projects these images onto the retina. The retina is the inner surface of the eyeball that contains all of the receptor cells that begin sensing that visual information. Once reached the ganglion cells, the axon tails form the ropy optic nerve through the thalamus, to the brain’s visual cortex, which is located in the occipital lobe (Jenkins, Perceiving is Believing). This allows us to view things in the world.

An example of our perception of the things we look at and how it can differ depending upon the person would be The Dress. The Dress that became an internet phenomenon over-night, because people couldn’t agree on what color it was. Some people swore that they saw a white dress with gold lace, while others saw a blue dress with black lace. Scientists studied the dress and came to the conclusion that the different perception in color is due to the expectation that the dress will appear the same under different lighting, explaining color constancy. People who saw the dress as white and gold, probably saw that the dress was lit by sunshine, causing their brains to ignore the shorter, bluer wavelengths. The people that saw the dress as blue and black, saw it lit by a false lighting; causing their brains to ignore longer, redder wavelengths (Lewis).

Oliver Sacks, a famous physician, professor, and author of unusual case studies, is viewed as a brilliant individual for his work; however, cannot do a simple task such as recognizing himself in a mirror. He has a form of Prosopagnosia, which is a neurological disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to perceive or recognize faces. This is also known as face blindness. He can perceive other information, such as his own handwriting, or book on a shelf, but is not able to recognize a close friend in a crowd. His Fusiform Gyrus, thought to be crucially involved in face perception, is malfunctioning. Many studies show that other parts of the brain such as the occipital lobe, and amygdala also play a key role in this disorder (Jenkins, Sensation & Perception).

Another disorder having to do with perception, is the Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder. According to DSM 5, it is a psychiatric disorder that is very different from Palinopsia, which is a medical disorder. Palinopsia causes people to see reoccurring images even after the stimulus has left. With Hallucinogen Persisting Perception, the individual sees higher intensities of distractions or interferences than an individual with normal vision does. It is normal to stare at something that is bright and see light particles called floaters. A person with Hallucinogen experiences higher frequencies and this interferes with their everyday life. An example of an individual with this disorder would be that the person may have difficulty naming colors or telling the difference between them. Another issue they may have is while reading, the words and letters may seem to move all over the page (Joseph).

Perception is often influenced or even biased by our expectations, experiences, moods, and sometimes cultural norms. This is where the mind comes in, not just the brain. We are even able to fool ourselves due to our expectations. Our eyes play a role in perceiving information to our brain, but really, our mind has the most power. Our perceptual set is the psychological factors that determine how we perceive the environment. For example, our perception can be influenced by our mood. People often say a hill is steeper when listening to depressing music and walking alone, however, it would feel less steep if you were listening to pop, or a cheery tune and walking with a friend (Jenkins, Perceiving is Believing).

The figure ground relationship is the organization of the visual field into objects that stand out from their surroundings. For example, the very common black and white picture of either a vase, or two faces. It could be a white vase on a black background, or two faces on a white background. If you look long enough, your perception will flip between the two, causing the figure and ground to flip also. Sometimes the vase is the figure and the black is the background, whereas the faces are the figure and the white is the background. Another example is if you are in a crowd of people and trying to listen to a certain person from across the room. You only hear what that person is saying, which makes the individual the figure. Whereas everyone else around you that is speaking is the ground (Jenkins, Perceiving is Believing). Another part of perception is proximity. This is an example that we like to group nearby things together. Instead of seeing a ton of random people at a party, we tend to mentally connect people standing next to each other. For example, athletes in one spot, the government team in another spot, etcetera (Jenkins, Perceiving is Believing).

Something else important to perception would be depth perception. This is the ability to see objects in three dimensions, even though images that strike retina are two dimensional. Depth perception also helps us to perceive an objects distance and full shape. We use binocular cues, the retinal disparity that depend on the use of two eyes. Retinal disparity is used for perceiving depth. For example, by holding your index fingers in front of your face and proceeding to look beyond them, you now have four fingers instead of two. Monocular cues, such as interposition and linear perspective, are available to either eye alone. This helps us determine the scale and distance of an object, such as relative height and size, linear perspective, texture gradient, and interposition (Jenkins, Perceiving is Believing).

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Motion perception is used to determine speed and direction of the moving object. Your brain perceives motion mostly based on the idea that shrinking objects are moving away, or retreating, and enlarging objects are coming fourth, or approaching. However, your brain can easily be misled when it comes to motion. For example, large objects appear to move slower than small ones that are going the same speed. Also, organizing things by form, depth, and motion, our perception of the world requires consistency, which brings us back to the cognitive dissonance theory. Perceptual constancy is what allows us to continuously recognize an object regardless of its distance, view angle, or motion. Even though it might change color, size, and shape based on conditions. For instance, we all know what a Chihuahua looks like, so if we see a green Chihuahua, we still know it’s a Chihuahua. A person with dissonant beliefs might try to say that it’s not a Chihuahua because it’s a different color, even though it still clearly looks like a Chihuahua (Jenkins, Perceiving is Believing).

Our mind is responsible for most of the ways we perceive things. Our eyes and our brain do the science, while our mind decides how were going to take the sensations, or data collected. Our mind decides to retain information from the sensations we experience and evaluate them to different personal views.


AlleyDog. Sensation & Perception. 1998-2016. Class Notes.

Bem, Daryl J. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Vol. 6. New York and London: Academic Press, Inc., 1972. Standford University professor.

Festinger, Leon. An Introduction to the Theories of Cognitive Dissonance. 1956.

Joseph, Laran. Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder DSM-5. 2016.

Lewis, Tanya. “Science of “The Dress”.” Live Science (2016).

Milnes, Chris. Honors Psychology Period 8 Samantha Adelman. 2016. Class Notes.

Perceiving is Believing. Dir. Nick Jenkins. Perf. Hank Green. 2014.

Sensation & Perception. Dir. Nick Jenkins. Perf. Hank Green. 2014.

Williams, Yolanda. What is Perception? 2003-2016. Chapter 3.7 Williams’ notes.


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