Perception may be defined as “a cognitive process by which people attend to incoming stimuli, organize and interpret such stimuli into behaviour.”
Perception can also be defined as “a process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment”.
Different individuals have different thinking styles, beliefs, feelings and objectives etc. and almost every individual behaves accordingly. Just because of these factors different people take different meaning for the same things.
For some, a particular thing is right where as for some it is totally wrong. It is all because how you take things, what is your point of view, how you look at things. This is perception.
1. Meaning of Perception 2. Definition of Perception 3. Features 4. Elements of Perceptual Process 5. Components of Perception 6. Factors Influencing Perception 7. Perceptual Selectivity
8. Managerial Implications of Perception 9. Perception Models 10. Theories of Perception 11. Measuring Perception 12. Enhancing Perceptual Skills 13. Changing Perception 14. Perceptual Congruence.
Perception in Organisational Behaviour: Meaning, Features, Factors and Theories
Perception in Organisational Behaviour – Meaning, Features, Elements of Perceptual Process, Factors, Perceptual Selectivity and Managerial Implications of Perception
Meaning of Perception:
Different individuals have different thinking styles, beliefs, feelings and objectives etc. and almost every individual behaves accordingly. Just because of these factors different people take different meaning for the same things. For some, a particular thing is right where as for some it is totally wrong. It is all because how you take things, what is your point of view, how you look at things. This is perception.
Stephen P. Robbins defines perception as:
“Perception may be defined as a process by which individuals organise and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment.”
Features of Perception:
1. Intellectual process through which a person selects the data from the environment, organises it and obtains meaning from it.
2. Basic cognitive or psychological process. Peoples actions, emotions, thoughts or feelings are triggered by the perception of their surroundings.
3. A subjective process.
This is the first stage in the perception process where the perceiver comes across various information in the formal objects, events, people etc. All these factors exist in the environment itself. These factors provide stimuli to the perceiver. When the perceiver interacts with a stimulus, sensation takes place which starts perception process.
Stimuli may be in the form of-
This involves three elements:
(a) Selection of Stimuli:
Various forms of stimuli exist in the environment. As human being is also a part of the environment he receives the stimuli from it. There are basically two type of factors in the environment. One is internal factor, which relates to the perceiver. Second is external factor which is related to stimuli.
(b) Organisation of Stimuli:
Arranging stimuli in some form so as to make sense. Various forms of organising stimuli are-
i. Figure Ground:
This is one of the principles of collecting information. This principle is known as figure ground principle. Here, while collecting information, two things are kept in mind, first is focus and second is background.
Decision is made on the basis of the focus keeping in consideration the background of the matter. E.g. in most of the organizations, good performance is taken as the focus for promotions and their relations with the superiors are taken as background, whereas it is just the opposite in some organizations where relations with the superiors are taken as the focus whereas the performance is taken as the background. This varies from organization to organization.
ii. Perceptual Grouping:
On the basis of the proximity and similarities various stimuli are grouped together into recognizable patterns. This grouping of stimuli helps the individuals in perceiving things in a proper manner or in a manner in which they want to perceive. Grouping is also done by them accordingly.
Every person tries to decrease the burden whenever he is overloaded. Here we are talking of overload of information. In order to reduce this load, people try to simplify the process or contents of the matter. This they do by eliminating the less important or less required information and concentrating upon the important information. This decreases their work load and helps them in understanding things in a better manner.
This is known as the winding up of the matter or filling the gap to make things meaningful or understandable. This is followed whenever the manager realizes that there is some gap in the information which he has received or when he finds the information incomplete. So through his own experience, past history and analysis he fills the gap of incomplete information and makes the information complete.
(c) Interpretation of Stimuli:
After selecting and organizing stimuli the next step is interpretation. Here the perceiver interprets things according to his thinking styles, state of mind, environment, circumstances, objectives, beliefs etc. This is done by making assumption about people, by using past experience etc.
i. These outputs may be in the form of covert action like development of attitudes, opinions, beliefs, impressions etc. about the stimuli.
ii. It may also result into overt action. e.g.,
(a) See an ad-stimuli (Input)
(b) Perceive the product as good (Mechanism)
(c) Buy the product (overt output)
The factors which affects perceptual mechanism are of three kinds:
1. Characteristics of the Perceiver
2. Characteristics of the Perceived or target, and
3. Characteristic of the Situation
These are the personal characteristics of the individuals:
(i) Needs & Motives:
Individuals perception is basically determined by their inner needs and motives. They take things differently according to their different needs and motives. Different needs results in different stimuli, similarly people select different items to satisfy their needs. According to Freud, “Wishful thinking is the means by which the Id, a part of personality, attempts to achieve tension reduction.” In such cases, people will perceive only those items which suit their wishful thinking.
(ii) Self Concept:
How actually a person views others or the rest of the world will clearly decide that how he thinks about himself, or what his self-concept is. It is largely based upon individuals complex psychological make-up. Self-understanding helps understanding others.
A persons belief has direct impact on his perception. It is very difficult for an individual to think beyond his personal beliefs because most of the times people go as per their beliefs and they perceive in the same manner.
According to Daniel Katz:
a. An individual self-censors his intake of communications so as to shield his beliefs and practices from attack.
b. An individual seeks out communication which support his beliefs and practices
c. The latter is particularly true when the beliefs and practices in question have undergone attack.
(iv) Past Experience:
Peoples perception is greatly influenced by their past experiences. A person, having good experience in past will perceive accordingly and vice versa.
(v) Current Psychological State:
Current psychological or emotional state of people plays an important role in perception. Present position of the person defines how a person will perceive thing. Like, a person in a good mood will perceive in a different manner as compared to a person who is not in a good mood.
Again expectations are major players in deciding how a person will perceive. Expectations are related with the state of anticipation of particular behaviour from a person. E.g. If a person thinks that Mr. X will never do anything good to him then even if Mr. X is right that person will always remain under an impression that Mr. X is wrong.
(i) Size- The bigger is the size of the perceived stimulus, the greater the possibility that it is perceived & vice versa. People tend to understand things better when it is explained in a clearer manner and they understand the same accordingly.
(ii) Intensity- More intense the external stimulus is, the more likely it is to be perceived e.g. a loud sound, bright colour etc. is more likely to attract attention than a soft sound or relatively dull colour.
(iii) Frequency- The greater the frequency of repetition of things, the greater will be the perceptual selectivity. This is also in accordance with the repetitive theory of learning.
(iv) Status- Perception is also influenced by the status of the perceiver. High status people can have greater influence on perception of an employee as compared to low status people.
(v) Contrast – The stimulus which is in contrast with the surrounding environment attracts more attention as compared to the stimuli that blends in.
Time, place and situation at the time of the communication plays an important role in perception.
Such situational factors can be further classified as:
(i) Physical setting- This includes place, location, light, heat, ventilation, basic amenities etc. If all these things are proper then people may perceive positively and vice versa.
(ii) Social setting- This includes human resources i.e. the people around you or the affected parties or the people concerned about you or the persons you are concerned about or the people who you work with.
(iii) Organizational setting- This includes the hierarchy in the organization, organizational setup, structure etc. All these influence the perception.
i. Perception is a selective process as people can sense only limited amount of information in the environment. They are characteristically selective.
ii. By selection certain aspects of stimuli are screened out and others are admitted.
iii. Such a selectivity in perception can be brought about by different factors which can be broadly classified as external and internal factors.
I. External Factors in Perceptual Selectivity:
External factors are in the form of the characteristics of perceptual input or stimuli.
Impact of external factors on the perceptual selectivity.
May affect the perceptual selectivity by affecting the attraction of the perceiver. Usually bigger is the size of perceived stimulus, higher is the probability that it attracts the – attention of the perceiver and he may select it for perception. E.g. Letters of larger size in books catch attention of the readers and they tend to read it before reading the entire text.
More intense the external stimulus is, the more likely it is to be perceived e.g. loud sound or strong odour, bright light. E.g. Commercials on TV are slightly louder than the programme.
Repeated external stimulus is more attention getting than a single one.
(4) Novelty and Familiarity:
Either a novel or a familiar situation can serve as attention getter.
E.g. Job rotation makes people more attentive to their new job or communication in a familiar jargon is better accepted.
Stimuli which stands against the background or which are not what people expect, receive more attention.
i. Bold letters
ii. Differently dressed person.
iii. Different colour
Moving objects draw more attention as compared to stationary objects.
E.g. TV commercials get more attention than print advertisements.
All these factors must be used judiciously e.g. a loud supervisor may put off subordinates instead of attracting their attention.
These are related to the individuals complex psychological makeup.
(1) Self Concept:
The way a person views the world depends a great deal on the concept or image he has about himself.
Peoples own characteristics affect the characteristics they are likely to see in others. They select only those aspects which they find match with their characteristics.
A fact is perceived not on what it is but what a person believes it to be.
The individual normally censors stimulus inputs to avoid disturbance of his existing beliefs
We expect trade union officials to use rough language.
A Mental set about beliefs, expectations and values filter perception.
(4) Inner Need:
People with different needs select different items to remember or respond to and experience different stimuli.
When people are not able to satisfy their needs they engage in wishful thinking to satisfy the needs not in the real world but in imaginary world. In such cases people perceive only those items which are consistent with their wishful thinking.
(5) Response Disposition:
Refers to a persons tendency to perceive familiar stimuli rather than unfamiliar ones.
E.g. In an experiment people with dominant religious values took lesser time in recognising such related words as priest or minister. Whereas they took longer time in recognising words related with economic values such as cost or price.
(6) Response Salience:
It is the set of dispositions which are determined not by the familiarity of the stimulus situations, but by the persons own cognitive predisposition.
E.g. a particular problem in an organisation may be viewed as a marketing problem by the marketing person but as control problem to the accounting person and as human resource problem to the personnel person.
The reason is that people are trained to look at the situation from one point of view only, not from other point of view.
(7) Perceptual Defence:
Refers to the screening of those elements which create conflict and threatening situation in people. They may even perceive other factors to be present that are not a part of the stimulus situation.
(a) Denying the existence of conflicting information
(b) Distorting the new information to match the old one
(c) Acknowledging the new information but treating it as a non-representative exception.
A manager is primarily concerned with the achievement of organisational objectives. Perception affects the behaviour of employee. So facts necessarily may not always be accepted. Thus understanding human perception is important in understanding and controlling the behaviour. There are five major areas which require special attention so far as the perceptual accuracy is concerned.
Managers in the organization need to know whether or not members share similar or at least compatible perceptions. If people are not misunderstanding each other, if they are not working with preoccupied minds and having positive approach then the interpersonal relations can be strengthened.
Misperceptions usually lead to strained relations and may even result in open conflict among people.
Selection is based on tests, interviews and review of the applicants background. Managers perception should not be biased. Selection of the employees also depends upon how a candidate is taking the question. His answers will be accordingly.
If the candidate is taking the questions in the same manner as it is asked then he will be in a better position to answer it in a positive manner. Perceptual difference totally changes the meaning of the response which sometimes results in major problems.
Appraisal is highly affected by the accuracy of a managers perception. In most of the cases promotions, transfers, increments, continuation of the employees etc. depends upon the perceptual process of the boss. Performance appraisal is related with the performance of the employees and must be based on objective criteria. But irrespective of this fact, it is dependent upon the subjective criteria e.g. personal likes and dislikes of superior.
While judging the level of effort of a person the manager appraises the qualitative aspect of an employees performance. If he perceives them as putting in sufficient efforts and being sincere then he would rate them high in spite of their not achieving targets and vice versa. Manager must be careful while judging this aspect.
With proper application of perception the loyalty level can be increased. If the employees think that management is not taking any undue advantage from them, management is understanding them, then they will perceive it as their own organization and switching over of jobs will be decreased.
Perception in Organisational Behaviour – Definition, Components, Perception Models and Satisfying Model
Definition of Perception:
Perception may be defined as “a cognitive process by which people attend to incoming stimuli, organize and interpret such stimuli into behaviour”. Perception can also be defined as “a process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment”.
The environment is a stimulus to influence behaviour, because the stimuli are attended, organized and interpreted to arrive at certain forms of behaviour. The sensory organs, i.e., eyes, nose, ears, skin and tongue, are used to change the stimuli into behaviour through their attention, recognition and interpretation processes.
Individuals do not accept the information or stimuli unless they are evaluated and interpreted by the mental processing system. Individuals attend to the stimuli, recognize and translate them into meaningful information, which inspire them to act and perform the job. These processes are known as perpetual process.
When employees get satisfaction through their performance, either by meeting their physical or mental needs, they perceive the organization in the right perspective. It helps them understand the functions and achieve satisfaction.
Components of Perception:
Perception is a process of sensory organs. The mind gets information through the five sense organs, viz., the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. The stimulation coming to these organs may be through action, written messages, oral communication, odour, taste, touch of the product and people. The perception starts with the awareness of these stimuli. Recognizing these stimuli takes place only after paying attention to them. These messages are then translated into action and behaviour.
The receipt of information is the stimulus, which results in sensation. Knowledge and behaviour depend on senses and their stimulation. The physical senses used by people are vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Intuitions and hunches are known as the sixth sense. These senses are influenced by a larger number of stimuli, which may be action, information, consideration and feelings, etc.
The stimuli may be in the form of objects or physical commodities. The human body itself is developed through the acceptance of the stimuli. The mind and soul are the victims of these stimuli occurring in the surroundings of the people. The family, social and the economic environment are important stimuli for the people. The physiological and psychological functions are the result of these stimuli.
The intensive and extensive forms of stimuli have a greater impact on the sensory organs. The physical work environment, sociocultural environment and other factors have certain stimuli to influence the employee’s perception. In all, the perception begins only when people deal with stimuli; that is, stimulating factors give information about the situation.
People selectively attend to stimuli. Some of the stimuli are reacted to while others are ignored without being paid any attention. The stimuli that are paid attention depend purely on the people’s selection capacity and the intensity of stimuli. Educated employees pay more attention to any stimuli, viz., announcement of bonus, appeal for increasing productivity, training and motivation. The management has to find out suitable stimuli, which can appeal to the employees at the maximum level.
If the attention of the employees is not drawn, the organization cannot expect proper behaviour from the employees. An organization should be aware of all those factors, which affect the attention of the employees. During the attention process, sensory and neural mechanisms are affected and the message receiver becomes involved in understanding the stimuli. Taking employees to the attention stage is essential in an organization for making them behave in a systematic and required order.
After paying attention to the stimuli, the employees try to recognize whether the stimuli are worth realizing. The messages or incoming stimuli are recognized before they are transmitted into behaviour. Perception is a two-phase activity, i.e., receiving stimuli and translating the stimuli into action. However, before the stage of translation, the stimuli must be recognized by the individual.
The recognition process is dependent on mental acceptability. For example, if a car driver suddenly sees a child in front of his running car, he stops the car. He recognizes the stimuli, i.e., the life of the child is in danger. His mental process recognizes the danger after paying attention to the stimuli. If he does not pay attention to the stimuli, he cannot recognize the danger. After recognizing the stimuli, he translates the message into behaviour.
The stimuli are evaluated before being converted into action or behaviour. The evaluation process is translation. In the above example, the car driver after recognizing the stimuli uses the clutch and brake to stop the car. He has immediately translated the stimulus into an appropriate action. The perception process is purely mental before it is converted into action. The conversion is translation. The management in an organisation has to consider the various processes of translating the message into action. The employees should be assisted to translate the stimuli into action.
For example, the announcement of bonus should be recognized as a stimulus for increasing production. The employee should translate it into appropriate behaviour. In other words, they should be motivated by the management to increase productivity. During the translation period, psychological mechanism commonly known as sensory and mental organs is affected. They influence perception. The incoming stimuli are interpreted and perception is developed.
Behaviour is the outcome of the cognitive process. It is a response to change in sensory inputs, i.e., stimuli. It is an overt and covert response. Perceptual behaviour is not influenced by reality, but is a result of the perception process of the individual, his learning and personality, environmental factors and other internal and external factors at the workplace.
The psychological feedback that may influence the perception of an employee may be superior behaviour, his eye movement, raising of an eyebrow, the tone of voice, etc. The behaviour of employees depends on perception, which is visible in the form of action, reaction or other behaviour. The behavioural termination of perception may be overt or covert.
The overt behaviour of perception is witnessed in the form of physical activities of the employees and covert behaviour is observed in the form of mental evaluation and self-esteem. The perception behaviour is the result of the cognitive process of the stimulus, which may be a message, or an action situation of management function. Perception is reflected in behaviour, which is visible in different forms of employees’ action and motivation.
Proper behaviour leads to higher performance. High performers become a source of stimuli and motivation to other employees. A performance-reward relationship is established to motivate people.
High performance gives more satisfaction. The level of satisfaction is calculated with the difference in performance and expectation. If the performance is more than the expectation, people are delighted, but when performance is equal to expectation, it results in satisfaction. On the other hand, if performance is less than the expectation, people become frustrated and this requires a more appealing form of stimulus for developing proper employee work behaviour and high performance.
It is essential to understand the factors that influence the perception process and mould employees’ behaviour towards the corporate objectives and self-satisfaction. Individuals observe several stimuli every day. They confront these stimuli, notice and register them in their minds, interpret them and behave according to their background and understanding.
Employees confronted with stimuli select only a few stimuli of their choice and leave other stimuli unattended and unrecognized. Factors influencing the selective process may be external as well as internal, organizational structures, social systems and characteristics of the perceiver.
Perception models are related to the perception objectives and perceptual setup to achieve objectives. Broadly speaking, perception model may be selected from among the decision-making model, the satisfying model, implicit favourite model and the intuitive model. Each has its respective advantages.
There are different types of decision-making models. Of these, the optimizing model, the individual decision-making model and the ethical decision-making model are some of the important perception models based on the decision-making process.
1. Ethical Decision-Making Model:
The decision-making process involves ethical considerations, which are utilitarian, consistent and just. Utilitarianism refers to the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Goals like productivity, profitability, economy and efficiency are considered under the ethical decision-making process. Consistency with the existing rules and regulations are important for making ethical decisions.
Right decisions are preferred, as they do not antagonize any person. Equitable distributions of benefits and costs are the basic point of justice. Ethics are based on cultures and social setup. Ethical decisions have a moral support and long lasting features. Ethics and culture influence the decision-making process at every stage, i.e., ascertaining the needs for decisions, identification of the decision criteria, allocation of weight to the criteria, development of the alternatives, evaluation of the alternative; and selection of the best alternatives. The needs and attitudes are developed as per the ethics and culture of society.
2. Individual Decision-Making Model:
Individuals think before they act in their own manner and method. They follow the simple process of decision-making. They consider their decision the best because the decision is taken as per their individual outlook. Some individuals prefer satisfying decisions while others take maximisation of uses as the best decision.
However, there are people who do not bother about the decision process, but take a swift decision based on their personal whims and discretion. The majority of the people use a simple decision-making process. Neatness, promptness, enthusiasm, attitudes, preferences and education have a great influence on the individual’s decision-making process.
3. Optimizing Model:
The optimising decision-making model assumes the rationality, goals and preferences for arriving at the final choice of maximising the outcome. Rationality assumes that people prefer consistency and value maximising. People are logical and objective-oriented. They are goal-oriented and use the steps of optimizing to select the best alternative. People are clear about their preferences and choice methods.
They are knowledgeable about the need for a decision, can identify the decision criteria, assign proper weights and values, develop alternatives, evaluate the alternatives and select the best alternative. The decision-makers list the needs, which are more thrusting and less thrusting. The criteria dividing the steps are weighed and evaluated to find various alternative solutions to a problem.
First, alternatives are developed in different forms. Secondly, the alternatives are evaluated as per the weighted criteria. Different alternatives are related and ranked. The alternative having the maximum weights is rated as the best and given the first rank. The decision thus arrived gives maximum value or optimises the use of resources.
The satisfying or bounded rationality model is used to arrive at suitable decisions. When people face complex problems, they require at least those solutions, which may satisfy them to a minimum level. A simple and satisfying model is constructed within the limits of rationality. All the problems are analyzed, their complexities are understood and solutions are put forward for conspicuous choices.
The difference between the optimizing and satisfying model is that all alternatives are not evaluated under satisfying model as is done in the former case. Instead, only those alternatives are evaluated which are satisfactory and sufficient. Only those alternatives, which are good enough, are selected for getting satisfaction.
If satisfying attributes exist in alternatives, the further search of good enough attributes continues till the best alternative is arrived at. The satisfying model considers only simple and limited models. Only those alternatives are considered which are commonly known and are within the limits of the decision-makers.
Remote, non-feasible alternatives are not considered, and only useful and approachable decisions are used for solving problems.
1. Implicit Favourite Model:
Like the satisfying model, the implicit favourite model solves complex problems by simplifying the process. An alternative will be considered and evaluated only when it is identified as a favourite, which is implicitly known to the decision-maker. In this case, the decision-maker is neither rational nor objective.
He implicitly selects a preferred alternative. The implicit favourite is the right choice. It has been revealed by research that people prefer an implicit favourite decision which may or may not be the optimizing alternative. In the implicit favourite model, the problem is first identified. Thereafter, implicit favourite alternatives are developed to find the required solutions.
Evaluation criteria to judge each and every alternative as the favourite are developed. Using the criteria, the alternatives are reduced to a lower number, viz., one or two. If these alternatives do not fulfil the requirements of the decisions, new implicit favourite alternatives are developed, evaluated and selected as discussed already.
2. Intuitive Model:
The implicit favourite model gives birth to the intuitive model, which believes in one’s own decision as favourable. The implicit favourite model requires even evaluation of the alternatives. Intuition is considered the best criterion to select an alternative as the best alternative solution to the problem.
Intuition is one’s own inner feeling or sixth sense. It depends on one’s own experience and knowledge. Many decisions taken at the unconscious level of the mind are very useful. Intuitive and rational decisions are not opposite to each other, but are complementary to each other. Intuitive decisions result from quick decision-making processes, although they are not always dependable. The management should rationally evaluate intuitive decisions.
Perception in Organisational Behaviour – Components, Basic Model, Perceptual Process, Factors Affecting, Theories of Perception and a Few Others
Components of Perception:
According to Alan Saks, there are three important components involved in perception—the perceiver, the target, and the situation. The perceiver is the person who interprets the stimuli. The target is the entity (a person, place, thing, event, and so on) about which the perceiver makes an interpretation based on the stimuli generated by the target or a third party.
For example, as you were running into the office late for work, your boss was walking out of the door. He, the perceiver in this case, may create a perception about your punctuality and dedication. It is also possible that another person, may be his secretary, tells him that you tend to come late.
This too could lead to his creating a perception about you. In both cases, you are the target. The situation also matters in creating the perception as it also acts as a stimulus. Suppose you were running into the office late on a rainy day in a rain coat with water dripping, the boss is likely to perceive your action differently than if you were running into the office on a clear day, looking dry and fresh. This happens because the rainy days and the clear dry days (the environment) also create stimulus.
Jerome Bruner’s model of perception, though a basic one, is very useful to understand perception. This model suggests that when the stimulus from an unfamiliar target reaches the perceiver, the perceiver gets different cues, and he/she tries to collect more cues.
This happens till the perceiver gets some familiar cues, which help the perceiver to categorise the target. The moment it happens, the perceiver tends to not only stop the search for more cues, but also tends to reject any new cues. What is worse is that the perceiver even goes to the extent of distorting the new incoming cues to fit the interpretation created by the initial familiar cue.
A stimulus is created by the target or by a third party about the target. The situation also creates a stimulus. These stimuli reach the sensory organs of the perceiver after passing through filters such as other noises like background noise, light, lack of light, and so on. The stimulus, which falls on the sensory organs such as eyes or ears is called proximal stimuli.
The original stimulus without any filtration is the distal stimulian and the difference between these under ‘visual sensation and perception’. The proximal stimuli undergo transduction (change in form to make it suitable for transmission through neurons) and then these are transmitted to the brain.
The stimuli generate some cues in the brain of the target. The brain also receives input from the memory based on the cues that the stimuli generate. The brain combines these and quickly interprets them into a percept. Although the perceiver’s brain continues to get stimuli from the target, these are either stopped or distorted to fit the first cue, in order to reinforce the initial percept. The percept that the perceiver creates about the target tends to influence his/her attitude and behaviour towards the target.
Now you might understand why during an interview, the moment you enter the cabin, and spend a few minutes with the interviewers, they make up their mind on selecting you, and all your later effort to showcase your competencies fall on deaf ears. When you become an interviewer, you should ensure that you don’t stop the stream of stimuli coming from the target and don’t allow the brain to distort the incoming cues.
Understanding this perceptual model is important because it explains why we perceive something in a particular way, why perceptual biases take place, and how we can try to prevent perceptual biases.
There are a number of factors that affect perception.
These are as follows:
Intensity, longevity, novelty, motion, background, proximity, and multiplicity of the stimulus influence perception. For example, if you see and hear a person talking loud, the effect of perception will be different from only hearing it.
Stimulus created by the target directly tends to have a greater impact than the stimulus created by a third party. For instance, the boss seeing a person coming late would have more impact than the secretary telling the boss about it.
The situation decides how perception is created. Loud talking during lunch break and during working hours creates same stimulus, but not the same perception. Solemnity, seriousness, time, work setting, social setting, nature of work, work tradition, and culture are some of the factors that affect perception in the workplace.
4. Sensory Organs:
Sensitivity of the sense organ is crucial in perception. For example, seeing an event clearly as against not seeing it clearly because of not wearing your spectacles can create different perceptions.
Age, gender, attitude, motive, interest, experience, expectations, self-concept, mood and cognitive structure of the perceiver and sensitivity of the sense organs are the important factors that affect perception.
6. Cues and Memory:
If the brain gets a familiar cue, it tends to stop searching for more, and goes on to fit the newer cues to match and reinforce the existing one. Hence, anything that exists in the memory can influence perception. This is important as it also leads to distortions.
7. Mental Training:
If a perceiver is well trained to suspend judgement and listen or see mindfully, then they will be able to reduce the impact of perceptual bias.
When we study perception, we can look at what happens in our body/sensory organs and what happens outside, that is, in the mind/brain and the environment. The former is called ‘proprioception’ and the latter ‘exteroception’. These are integrated in the brain. It is estimated that the brain dedicates at least half its resources for sensation and perception. This means sensation and perception are extremely important and complex processes.
There are several theories to explain sensation and perception. Perhaps, the reason why there are many theories is that perception has been studied under various disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, and medicine and each discipline proposed its own theories.
Most theories on perception, irrespective of the discipline, can be classified into two approaches- ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approaches. These approaches are closely linked to proprioception and exteroception.
1. Bottom-Up Approach:
Bottom-up approach, also called ‘direct approach’, was proposed by Gibson. According to this approach, objects exist whether they are perceived or not; for instance, the door of your house exists whether you perceive it or not, and it retains the properties of a door whether someone perceives it as a door or not.
Therefore, the properties of the target are perception-independent. In other words, we perceive the world directly through our sense organs and inferences are not involved. This thinking is also referred to as naive realism or direct realism. The strongest argument in favour of this is our ability to perceive something fast and accurately.
Gibson’s theory was largely based on his observation of pilots in World War II. Many argue that this was a unique situation and the theory cannot explain several real-life situations. For example, when a door is ajar and only the rectangular frame falls in the eye, we still perceive it as a door through which we can enter and exit. Illusions are another case in point and what falls on our sensory organs is not what we perceive.
2. Top-Down Approach:
This approach accepts that there are several inputs and intermediary thinking/inferences other than the physical stimuli, which falls on our sensory organs that affect perception. This approach is also called ‘constructivist’ or indirect approach, and Gregory has been its dominant proponent.
Although this approach sounds very logical, it too faces several inadequacies. For example, if perception is the result of inferences, then how can a new born baby perceive, since a neonate is not capable of inferring?
However, a neonate does perceive and show preference for shape constancy, mother’s voice, and normal features rather than scrambled features, even 5 minutes after birth. This makes it difficult to explain perception solely through an indirect approach.
3. Perceptual Cycle:
It is clear that neither top- down nor bottom-up approaches can independently explain perception. Furthermore, experiments have shown that increase in clarity of stimulus and amount of context increased the likelihood of correct identification of the object. From this arose, the assumption that the top-down and bottom- up processes interact with each other to produce perception.
Neisser’s perceptual cycle attempts to explain this. According to this, a perceiver tends to explore the actual environment using his/her knowledge from past experiences and do not do so in a vacuum. The existence of past experience is, thus, important to start the exploration.
This experience may be very rudimentary, say for example, a gut feeling that a problem can be solved in a particular way. Based on this, the perceiver takes some actions. The success/failure in the action refines the experience. This iteration goes on and is called perceptual cycle. Because of the iteration, it is only natural that new combinations of actions come up.
4. Evolutionary Psychology Approach:
Our eyes adapt to the intensity of light, and similarly, we can adapt to the intensity of pain. Bats navigate their way without colliding, using sound waves, whereas most other animals do so by sense of sight. This indicates the existence of an evolutionary process, and the theory suggests that perception evolves through adaptive actions.
5. Attribution Theory:
If someone is angry with you, you will attribute it to his/her bad temper, your own mistake, or some external factor that infuriated the person. In other words, we find a cause for the anger. Heider, an eminent psychologist pointed out that people are ‘naive psychologists’ and try to make sense out of social events and create causal relations for any social situation, even when there are none.
He extended this idea and suggested that we tend to explain the behaviour of others by attaching ‘internal attribution’ such as envy, lack of grooming, anger of the person, and so on. However, we explain our own behaviour by using external factors such as circumstances and compulsions. This is called external attribution. Formally, the attribution theory deals with how a social perceiver uses information to arrive at causal explanation of events.
6. Correspondent Inference Theory:
Let us take two cases to understand this. A person who has a friendly disposition wishes you warmly. Another person who does not have a friendly disposition also wishes you warmly. It is quite natural that we perceive them differently and attribute different meaning to the same behaviour. This is what correspondence inference theory attempts to explain.
Correspondent inference theory was proposed by John Davis and suggests that we attribute behaviour based on the following five different inputs:
The first input is whether the employee has a free choice to behave one way or the other. For example, the CEO of a company is addressing all the employees, but attendance is optional.
b. Intention vs Unintentional:
The second input is whether the behaviour is intentional or unintentional. Let us say that the address by the CEO was compulsory, but just before the address an important customer called to solve some problems. As a result, the employee could not attend the address of the CEO. This would be external attribution. However, if the employee left the office stating that s/he had an important appointment, it would normally be perceived as inability of the employee to plan. This will be a case of internal attribution.
c. Social Desirability:
If the social norm is that all employees attend the CEO’s address, then even though it may have been announced that the attendance is optional, absence of an employee without due reason would be considered internal attribution.
d. Non-Common Effect:
If a person’s behaviour has important consequence for us, then it would impact the attribution. For example, if the delay in providing adequate information by a person leads to your failure to close a sales deal, then it would be considered internal attribution.
e. Hedonistic Relevance:
If a person’s behaviour appears to cause us some benefit/harm, then we are likely to give it a personal meaning even if it was due to circumstances. In this case, we tend to make internal attribution.
7. Kelly’s Covariance Theory:
This is the best-known theory of attribution. The term covariance signifies that a person has input from multiple observations. According to Kelly, causal information has three components that determine the type of attribution.
a. Consensus means the extent to which other people behave the same way in a similar situation. For example, if it rains, many employees may come late to office. Hence, on a rainy day, if Mr ‘X’ is late, then the behaviour is likely to receive an external attribution tag.
b. Distinctiveness means the extent to which a person behaves the same way in different situations. For example, Mr ‘X’ comes late for meetings often. If he does so on a rainy day, it is not likely to be attributed to the rain (external attribution); rather to the person’s attitude towards punctuality (internal attribution).
c. Consistency refers to the extent to which a person behaves the same way, every time the same situation arises. Suppose a person comes late whenever it rains, then his coming late on a rainy day is likely to have internal attribution, whereas if s/he does not usually come late even if it rains, then, coming late on a rainy day is likely to have external attribution.
Kelly’s view is that we fall back on past experiences to create attributions and look for either multiple necessary causes or multiple sufficient causes. For example, if we see a student excel in examinations, then, we reason that the student must be intelligent, hardworking, highly skilled, motivated, and trained. All these are necessary to do well in an examination. This way of attributing is called multiple necessary causes.
However, often we attribute success in examination to intelligence only. This is called attribution due to ‘multiple sufficient cause’. In other words, we find a way to attribute success to a few causes rather than all the causes.
Last but not the least, Indian philosophical approach to perception has much to teach us.
We all know about rational decision making. However, in real life, decisions are influenced by perceptions, attitudes, and emotions. This view suggests that making decision is a function of perceptions, attitudes, and emotions in addition to rationality. It is called perception-based view (PBV).
This answers why people in the same circumstances with same input make different decisions and why people make decisions that seem irrational or contrary to what is propagated by the rational decision theory. In other words, we can reasonably conclude that variations in decisions are attributable to perception.
Perception is multidimensional and fluid. This is because people’s perception of the same thing differs depending on circumstances, and so, we can say that time and space have an influence on human perceptions.
PBV suggests that:
(i) Decision makers do not always focus on rational or utilitarian view of the decision,
(ii) Utility itself differs from one person to another and this variance in the definition of utility could be attributable to perception,
(iii) Analytical comprehensiveness or the ability to take all factors required for analysis could be impossible, and therefore, perception influences decision making, and
(iv) Psychosocial factors influence perception and decision making.
PBV is an extremely important concept in OB because it simply means that all our decisions are influenced by our perceptions.
It is common knowledge that we create impressions/opinions about people all the time. We also make inferences about other people’s feelings and emotions. This is called social perception/person perception. We use a plethora of cues for person perception. It can be physical appearance, facial expression, the way of dressing, tone of voice, touch, gaze and so on.
As managers, we should be competent to make right person perception, though it is a difficult task. We can do this by training ourselves to observe the emotions, intentions, and desires of other people, learn to infer the inner state of the other people based on their words, behaviour, and expressions, and by adjusting our actions to the inferences we make. Social perception is also applicable in customer relationship, managing the boss, and building interpersonal relationship.
While the theories of perception are applicable to social/personal perception also, implicit personality theory can also help us to understand and manage our person perception. The theory proposes that there are central and peripheral traits. For example, a billing clerk at the checkout of a supermarket may be attractive, intelligent, or rude.
At the time of billing, the rudeness that the person exhibits is central, because we expect politeness from the billing staff. However, as we walk away and think of it, the person’s attractiveness and intelligence, which were peripheral at the time of billing, also begin to play a role in our perception of the individual.
This happens because we pay attention to a variety of cues such as visual, auditory, and verbal to create a perception of the other person. Additional cues of attractiveness and intelligence are used to fill the information gap to create perception.
Understanding this theory would enable us not to create a person perception without seeking more cues. Many organisations insist that we should test any attribute of an individual at least twice before we make a decision to hire the person. This method enables us to create the social/ person perception of the individual as accurately as possible.
Illusions are distortions of Illusions are distortions of sensory perception. They occur in all sensations, sensory perception though illusions related to visual perception are more common. Research on illusions is important and popular because it helps one to understand how the brain processes information.
Visual illusions enable one to understand the adaptations the brain has made to operate in a way so as to transform visual stimuli into perception. Mirage, rainbow, and reflection in a mirror are examples of physical illusion. These occur due to the nature of human anatomy.
Blind spots and ‘after images’ are examples of physiological illusions. The various receptors of the eye gather at a point, and then, run to the brain. At this point, there are no photoreceptors; however, we do not feel this because each eye compensates for the blind spot of the other eye. Afterimages occur due to fatigued visual channels.
Cognitive illusion is another type of illusion. It can be ambiguous illusions in which an object seems to change its appearance. This happens in the brain. Another cognitive illusion is paradox illusion. A third type of cognitive illusion is called distorting illusion, for instance, the moon appears larger when on the horizon, than when overhead.
Fourth type is fictional illusion or perceiving something that does not exist; for instance, hearing a sound that did not exist. This is often called hallucination. We now know that all that we see and hear may not be real. Knowledge about illusions will help us not to fall into the trap of perceptual distortion/bias resulting from illusions.
If you watch a news program at night, you are often asked to vote or send tweets on your perception of the issue. This is measuring perception. In fact, we tend to measure perception of virtually everything. Brand, violence in society, job satisfaction, effectiveness of a slimming program, and risk taking capability are a few examples.
In most cases, we use a well-designed survey questionnaire for this. Questions measuring perception should differ from questions measuring attitude, behaviour, or knowledge. Let us consider two questions to understand this- (i) how do you rate the incentive plan of your company, (ii) how did you feel when you received your last bonus. The former measures perception, whereas the latter the behaviour.
Therefore, perception can be measured even if the individual has not experienced an event, but behaviour can be measured only if he person has experienced the situation/event.
Let us now see some of the popular perception tests:
i. Perception can be measured by giving an experience of something. For example, a blind test conducted on taste of food or drinks is a way of measuring perception of liking the taste. It does not mean that it will lead to purchase behaviour.
ii. Measuring perception through psychophysical experiments is a popular method. The purpose is to identify how a stimulus is perceived.
There are four distinct aspects we try to measure-
(a) Detection, for example, the amount of light or sound required before the stimulus is detected,
(b) Identification, for example, we show pictures used in an advertisement without the words and ask people to state what it is,
(c) Discrimination, for instance, we make people taste a new and old version of a drink with slight difference in taste and ask them to judge which is better, and
(d) Scaling or finding out the magnitude of stimuli required for discrimination.
iii. We usually use four methods to measure perception. First is the method of limits or staircase method where the magnitude of stimuli is increased progressively in ascending or descending order and the subject is asked to indicate whether they can detect the stimulus. What the ophthalmologist does by changing various lenses and asking you to read lines of different sizes is an example of this method.
The second method is the method of adjustment. It is the same as the earlier one except that the subject is asked to adjust the stimulus till it is detected. For example, the doctor tells you to move the lines up or down till you can perceive the letters clearly. Third is the method of constant stimuli (random order).
Here, the stimuli are presented by the experimenter, at random. The advantage of this method is that it minimises errors due to adaptation or expectation. Fourth is catch trials, which means no stimulus is given. This is used in tandem with other methods to detect whether the subject is simply guessing.
Enhancing Perceptual Skills:
Perceptual skill is enhanced by creating some changes in the target or the perceiver.
1. Physical Measures:
Wearing spectacles, using a microphone, or having a hearing device are examples of this. Wine tasters wash their mouth before every wine tasting. This is also intended for increasing the stimuli.
2. Accumulating Data:
Consider that a manager sees an employee coming late to office one day. The manager can create a perception immediately or seek record or the employee’s attendance before creating a perception. The latter leads to better perception because of accumulation of data.
Consider a situation where a manager is giving instructions to a group of employees. Some would concentrate and some would not. The ones who concentrate are likely to have a better perception of the work involved because the perceivers were able to enhance the stimulus through concentration.
Let us take the case of a demonstration taking place in a noisy environment and two people attending it; one, a person who works in a noisy environment most of the time and another who works in a calm atmosphere. The latter is likely to perceive the situation more negatively and learn less. The advantage that the first person would have is that he/she is better adapted to a noisy environment.
5. Preventing Filtering:
Let us take the case of a supervisor reporting to the manager just before he/she was going for an important presentation that two employees had a minor scuffle. The chances are that this stimulus will get filtered because of the important work the manager has at hand and not get due attention. The manager can ask the supervisor to raise the issue the next day or note it down in his ‘action pending’ list to prevent filtering.
Wine tasting, observing a movement in a forest, or observing a suspicious person are all done by training, to pick up the stimuli from the target, item by item.
7. Increasing Experiences:
Sensory stimulus and input from the memory are integrated to create perception. It means that perception is dependent a lot on the input from the memory. Input from the memory itself is dependent on own exposure to activities and experiences. This is the reason why people who take part in various activities, travel and talk to people, participate in workshops, or have better background knowledge are able to perceive things better.
8. Developing Mindful Awareness:
It is a method of “paying attention to the present moment or experience with openness, curiosity, and willingness to accept things without judgement”. Mindfulness prevents the first cue from the memory getting attached to the percept, thus blocking more input from getting attached.
A person (or the perceiver) has perception about almost anything (Targets). A target may be an organisation, processes, systems, people, events, places, risk, or products. Perceptions may be passive. Examples are a general dislike for change, investment in stocks, using genetically modified products, or ignoring a person in the workplace.
It can also be active. For example, using aggressive language towards a colleague or actively propagating against the use of genetically modified products are result of active perception.
Perceptions are like snapshots. The perceiver develops the perceptions almost at the first instance or interaction when she/he receives the stimulus. Thereafter, the perceiver tends to retain and strengthen these perceptions.
The reason for this is that the perceiver tends to take the first cue and interpret the meaning of the sensation/stimulus and then actively resists further cues. Therefore, changing the perception about something involves reducing the impact of the first cue and allowing more cues to influence perception.
We can change perception in two ways:
i. The perceiver changes her/ his perception about the target and thereby changes her/his own behaviour towards the target.
ii. The target changes its behaviour so that the perceiver changes the perception of the target.
i. Perceiver Changing Her/His Own Perception:
This is important in an organisational context. Resisting change because of our perception about the changed situation is one of the greatest challenges today; more so, when changes have to be frequent. It is also central to interpersonal relationship in workplace.
To change our perception, first the perceiver should define the issue at hand, for example ‘I don’t like X’, ‘this office is ridden with polities’, and so on. Then, the perceiver should look for evidence to substantiate these perceptions and preferably record them. Thereafter, evaluate the evidence for its credibility.
The perceiver may ask a neutral person to corroborate the evaluation. This would minimise bias and enable the perceiver to gain new insight about the target. Do organisations use this technique effectively? The answer is that organisations with good performance management system use this method.
They have KRAs (key result areas) and KPIs (key performance indicators). KPIs are evidence of achieving the KRAs agreed to, at the beginning of the performance evaluation cycle. This leaves little scope for perceptual bias about an individual during performance evaluation. Yet bias takes place.
ii. Target Changing Other’s Perception about Itself:
We find universal application of target changing the perception in business. A leader intending to change the way followers perceive him/her is an example of target changing others’ perception of himself/herself. A product can also try to change the perception of customers about itself.
An example is Tata Nano car trying to change the customer’s perception about itself. Impression management and branding are the terms used to refer to these perception changes.
iii. Role of Communication and Personal Example in Changing Perception:
Communication is one of the most effective means to change perception. When we communicate frequently and effectively, the message is retained in the brain and the cues that come can be easily converted into a percept. Personal example is a very powerful stimulus that can change perceptions.
For example, on October 25, 2014, Barak Obama, the President of the US, hugged the nurse who had been quarantined for Ebola after caring for a US citizen who had died. This was not done so much to show the country’s gratitude for what she did, as to remove several wrong perceptions about Ebola.
Vikram Pandit of Citigroup taking a pay cut during the financial meltdown in 2009 is another example that changed the perception that pay cut during a recession is only for the lower hierarchy.
Perceptual congruence is defined as the extent to which members of the surveyed group agree on the perceptions of the social structure. It is applied to predict conflicts in organisations, groups, men and women planning to get married and so on. Organisations often study the congruence of values of their employees with organisational values.
Perceptual congruence helps us to live without conflicts. Congruence among couples predict differences that could emerge. Similarly, value congruence in an organisation, predicts possible conflicts that can emerge because of variation in perception of the values by an employee.