Perception is the active process of creating meaning by selecting, organizing, and interpreting people, objects, events, situations, and other phenomena. We do not passively receive what is “out there” in the external world. Instead, we actively work to make sense of ourselves, others, and interactions. To do so, we select only certain things to notice, and then we organize and interpret what we have selectively noticed. What anything means to us depends on the aspects of what we notice and on our organization and interpretation of those aspects. Thus, perception is not a simple matter of receiving external reality. Instead, we invest a lot of energy in constructing the meanings of phenomena.
Perception consists of three processes: selecting, organizing, and interpreting. These processes are continuous, so they blend into one another. They are also interactive, so each of them affects the other two. For example, what we select to per- ceive in a particular situation affects how we organize and interpret the situation. At the same time, how we organize and interpret a situation affects our subsequent selections of what to perceive in the situation.
Stop for a moment and notice what is going on around you right now. Is there music in the background? Is the room warm or cold, messy or neat, large or small, light or dark? Can you smell anything - food being cooked, the stale odor of last night’s popcorn, traces of cologne? Can you hear muted sounds of activities outside? Now, think about what’s happening inside you: Are you sleepy, hungry, comfortable? Do you have a headache or an itch anywhere? On what kind of paper is your book printed? Is the type large, small, easy to read? How do you like the size of the book, the colors used, the design of the pages? If you’re reading an e-book, is the screen resolution good? How do the colors and print look? Probably you weren’t aware of most of these phenomena when you began reading the chapter. Instead, you focused on understanding the content in the book.
You narrowed your attention to what you defined as important, and you were unaware of other aspects of the book and your surroundings. This is typical of how we live our lives. We can’t attend to everything in our environment so
Once we have selected what to notice, we must make sense of it. We organize what we have noticed and attribute meaning to it. A useful theory for explaining how we organize experience is constructivism, which states that we organize and interpret experience by applying cognitive structures called schemata We rely on four schemata to make sense of interpersonal phenomena :- Prototypes, Personal constructs, Stereotypes, and Scripts.
A prototype defines the clearest or most example of some category. For example, you probably have prototypes for categories such as teachers, supervisors, friends, and coworkers. Each of these categories is exemplified by a person who is the ideal; that’s the prototype. For example, if Mary is the best friend you’ve ever known, then Mary is your prototype of a friend. The prototype ( Mary) helps you decide who else fits in that particular category (friend). You get to know John, and then ask yourself how much he is like Mary. If you view him as a lot like her, then you would put John in the category Mary exemplifies: friend. Prototypes organize our perceptions by allowing us to place people and other phenomena in broad categories. We then consider how
We also have prototypes of relationships. Most People's prototypes of romantic relationships emphasize trust, caring, honesty, friendship, and respect. Although passion may come to mind when we think of love, it seems less central to our prototype of love than companionship, caring, and a comfortable lifestyle.
A personal construct is a “mental yardstick” we use to measure a person or situation along a bipolar dimension of judgment. Examples of personal constructs are intelligent–not intelligent, kind–not kind, responsible–not responsible, assertive–not assertive, and attractive–not attractive. We rely on personal constructs to size up people and other phenomena. How intelligent, kind, responsible, and attractive is this person? Whereas prototypes help us decide into which broad category a phenomenon fits, personal constructs let us make more detailed assessments of particular qualities of people and other phenomena.
A stereotype is a predictive generalization applied to a person or situation. Based on the category in which we place someone or something and how that person or thing measures up against the personal constructs we apply, we predict what he, she, or it will do. For instance, if you label someone as a liberal, you might stereotype her or him as likely to vote Democratic and support environmental protections. You may have stereotypes of fraternity and sorority members, military personnel, athletes, and people from other cultures. Stereotypes don’t necessarily reflect the actual groups to which they refer. Instead, stereotypes are based on our perceptions of groups or on social perspectives that we’ve internalized.
The final cognitive schema we use to organize perceptions is the script. A script is a guide to action. Scripts consist of sequences of activities that are expected of us and others in particular situations. They are based on our experiences and observations of interaction in various contexts. Many of our daily activities are governed by scripts, although we’re typically not aware of them. We have a script for greeting casual acquaintances on campus (“Hey, what’s up?” “Not much”). You also have scripts for managing conflict, talking with professors, dealing with clerks, and interacting with coworkers on the job. Scripts are useful in guiding us through many of our interactions. However, they are not always accurate or constructive, so we shouldn’t accept them uncritically. For instance, if your parents often engaged in bitter, destructive quarreling, you may have learned a script for conflict that can undermine relationships. If you grew up in a community that treated people of certain races negatively, you may want to assess that script critically before using it to direct your own activities.
Even after we have selectively perceived phenomena and used cognitive schemata to organize our perceptions, what they mean to us is not clear. There are no intrinsic meanings in phenomena. Instead, we assign meaning by interpreting what we have noticed and organized. Interpretation is the subjective process of explaining our perceptions in ways that make sense to us. To interpret the meaning of another’s actions, we construct explanations, or attributions, for them.
Attributions An attribution is an explanation of why something happened or why someone acts a certain way. Attributions have four dimensions.
The first is locus, which attributes a person’s actions to internal factors (“He has no patience with people who are late”) or external factors (“The traffic jam frustrated him”).
The second dimension is stability, which explains actions as the result of stable factors that won’t change over time (“She’s a Type A personality”) or unstable factors that may or will be different at another time (“She acted that way because she has a headache right now”).
Specificity is the third dimension, and it explains behavior in terms of whether the behavior has global implications that apply in most or all situations (“He’s a big spender”) or specific implications that apply only in certain situations or under certain conditions (“He spends a lot of money on clothes.”). At first it may seem that stability and specificity are the same, but they are distinct dimensions. Stability concerns time (whether the reason is temporary or enduring), whereas specificity concerns the breadth of the explanation (all situations, events, and places, or particular or limited situations and places).
The fourth dimension of attributions is responsibility. Do we hold a person responsible for a particular behavior? We’re more likely to hold people responsible for behavior that we think they can control. How we account for others’ actions affects our perceptions of them and our relationships with them. We can feel more or less positive toward others depending on our interpretation of why they act as they do.
Researchers have identified two common errors people make in their attributions. The first is the selfserving bias.
When I do badly on a test or paper, I usually say either the professor was unfair or I had too much to do that week and couldn’t study like I wanted to. But when my friends do badly on a test, I tend to think they’re not good in that subject or they aren’t disciplined or whatever.
The self-serving bias also works in a second way. We tend to avoid taking responsibility for negative actions and failures by attributing them to external, unstable, and specific factors that are beyond personal control. To explain a failing grade on a test, you might say that you did poorly because the professor (external) put a lot of tricky questions on that test (unstable, specific factor), so all your studying didn’t help (outside of personal control). In other words, our misconduct results from outside forces that we can’t help, but all the good we do reflects our personal qualities and efforts. This self-serving bias can distort our perceptions, leading us to take excessive personal credit for what we do well and to abdicate responsibility for what we do poorly. When the self-serving bias shapes how we interpret our behaviors, we form an unrealistic image of ourselves and our activities.