Factors Affecting Perception

We can define perception and factors affecting perception as perception being a cognitive process that is used to understand and interpret information that we get from our senses, and certain factors affect perception, such as emotion, motivation, culture, and expectations. Have you ever wondered why you walk into a room and seemingly miss seeing certain objects? Or forget seeing something at all in the room? Have you ever wondered why, when you're hungry, food looks so much more appetising?

Factors Affecting Perception Factors Affecting Perception

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    Humans have limited capacity for information that they can pay attention to. Psychological factors affect perception, so perception has a biased nature. When perceiving stimuli, people will focus on certain objects whilst ignoring others, known as perceptual sets.

    Perceptual sets are the tendency of humans to notice and ignore certain aspects of a stimulus, determined by a state of readiness.

    This is a type of perceptual bias.

    Factors affecting perception, two happy people in a hot air balloon using binoculars and telescope, StudySmarter

    Different factors can affect our perception of things, freepik.com/pch.vector

    How humans interpret stimuli/phenomena is based on factors such as:

    • External factors
    • Psychological factors

    Define perception and factors affecting perception

    As we discussed above, perception and factors affecting perception can be defined as:

    Perception is a cognitive process that is used to understand and interpret information that we get from our senses, and certain factors affect perception, such as emotion, motivation, culture, and expectations.

    Stimulus factors affecting perception

    Various stimulus factors can affect perception. These include:

    • Intensity
      • The more intense something is, the more likely it is that it will be perceived. For example, people are more likely to perceive a loud noise rather than a quiet background noise.
    • Changes
      • When driving in a car, there are constant changes in visual stimuli. So, what we see/perceive constantly changes.

    • Magnitude
      • The larger the size of an object, the more likely it is to be seen/perceived.
    • Repetition
      • Repetition increases our sensitivity to the stimuli. This means that we become more aware of stimuli because it has been perceived frequently.

    These are also known as external factors affecting perception.

    Psychological factors affecting perception

    Psychological factors that have been found to affect perception are:

    Motivation

    • We are more likely to perceive and see objects or aspects of objects that are of interest to us.

    Going to the shop when hungry can lead you to buy more food than you normally would.

    Gilchrist and Nesberg (1952) found supporting evidence of motivation affecting perception in their study, detailed below.

    Emotion

    • it is still debated how emotion affects perception. Generally, it is theorised that heightened states and emotions such as stress and anxiety can influence how much and what we perceive
    • Sad or happy feelings can affect how stimuli are interpreted; when sad, we may notice events or situations that are more upsetting.

    Selye's GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome) model suggests that senses are heightened when stressed due to a perceived threat. The body's response is to become hypervigilant (increased perception) so that the person can deal with the threat.

    People in sad moods are susceptible to visual illusions.

    Expectation

    • We have a tendency/bias to see things of how we expect to see them

    When someone thinks of an apple, they might expect it to be red or green. However, apples can also be yellow or white.

    Bruner and Minturn (1995) found supporting evidence of expectations affecting perception.

    Culture

    • Social norms, rules, beliefs and standards set by the society/culture we live in can affect how stimuli are perceived. This can affect how we process and interpret information that is perceived.
    • Culture affects the type of stimuli children are exposed to. For example, in western societies, children may be accustomed to colouring in 2D images and seeing pictures and cartoons of people and objects, so tend to draw them in a 2D format.

    Research evidence has found that people living in Eastern (collectivist) societies tend to perceive things holistically. Such as seeing objects about others. Whereas Western (individualistic) society tends to perceive things analytically. For example, people may interpret things as individual components.

    These psychological factors are also occasionally referred to as internal factors that affect perception.

    What research has investigated factors affecting perception?

    Gilchrist and Nesberg (1952) and Bruner and Minturn (1995) carried out research to identify if various factors (motivation and expectations) affected perception.

    The Gilchrist and Nesberg study of motivation

    Gilchrist and Nesberg (1952) conducted research to see if hunger affected how people perceived food.

    Procedure

    The study involved 26 students who volunteered to take part in the study, and the sample was split into two groups

    • Half were not allowed to eat for 20 hours before the start of the experiment, the experimental group

    • The other half ate a normal amount of food before the start of the group, the control group

    Both groups were shown an image for 15 seconds, and the screen would turn off. Additionally, participants were told that the same picture would be shown again for 15 seconds. However, it would look differently; they were told that the brightness had changed

    Participants were told to adjust the brightness of the second image to match the first image that was presented to them

    • This task was tested using a time-interval schedule: after lunchtime, after 6 hours and 20 hours

    • All the images shown were pictures of food

    Factors affecting perception, man thinking of food in Hunger StudySmarter

    Hungry people may perceive food differently than others, flaticon.com/premium-icon

    Results

    • The control group showed little difference in memory accuracy of the brightness of images
    • The experimental group, as they became hungrier, judged the images to be brighter than they originally had been

    From the results of the Gilchrist and Nesberg (1952) experiment, it can be concluded that motivation (in this case, hunger) can affect how we perception.

    Evaluation

    A strength of the study is that the study can be considered ecologically valid to a certain extent, as the experimental group did not actually eat for 20 hours. Therefore, participants actually would have been hungry. It is also easily replicated.

    A weakness of the study is that it was carried out on a non-representative sample (only 20 students). Therefore, the results cannot be generalised to the wider population.

    The Bruner and Minturn study of perceptual set

    Bruner and Minturn (1995) carried out research to investigate if expectations affected perception.

    Procedure

    In this study, 24 students were recruited in the experiment. Participants were required to complete a recognition task (of numbers and letters). Letters or numbers were quickly flashed on a screen

    Throughout the trials an ambiguous figure was shown, this means that it could have easily been interpreted as a 'B' or '13'

    The participants were split into two groups:
    1. Group 1 was shown numbers before the ambiguous figure was shown
    2. Group 2 was shown letters before the ambiguous figure was shown

    Perception Ambiguous figure StudySmarter

    Findings

    Bruner and Minturn (1955) found that:

    • 83% of Group 1 saw the ambiguous figure as the '13'.
    • 92% of Group 2 saw the ambiguous figure as 'B'.
    • The control group showed small differences in memory accuracy of the brightness of images
    • The experimental group started seeing the images brighter than what was originally shown

    From the results of Bruner and Minturn's (1995) experiment, it can be concluded that expectations affect how we perceive/interpret stimuli.

    From the results of the Gilchrist and Nesberg (1952) experiment, it can be concluded that motivation (in this case, hunger) can affect perception.

    Evaluation

    A strength of the study is that it was carried out in a controlled setting using a standardised procedure. This means that the experiment can easily be replicated. A further strength of the study is that the study can be considered as ecologically valid to a certain extent; the experimental group did not actually eat for 20 hours. Therefore, participants actually would have been hungry.

    Research needs to be replicable so that other researchers can do the exact same study to see if they get the same results. If similar results are found, then the experiment can be considered reliable.

    A weakness of the study is that confounding factors may have affected the results. For example, participants' eyesight and the variances between the brightness of the environment during testing of individual participants. It lacks ecological validity. A further weakness is that it was carried out on a non-representative sample (only 20 students). Therefore, the results cannot be generalised to the wider population.

    Factors Affecting Perception - Key takeaways

    • Perception is a cognitive process that is used to understand and interpret information that we get from our senses. Humans have limited capacity for information that they can pay attention to, therefore, perception has a biased nature
    • Perceptual sets are the tendency of humans to notice and ignore certain aspects of a stimulus, determined by a state of readiness.
    • There are different types of factors that affect perception. Stimulus factors, such as intensity, change, magnitude, and repetition affect perception.
    • Psychological factors, such as motivation, emotion, expectation and culture also affect perception.
    • Gilchrist and Nesberg (1952) and Bruner and Minturn (1995) carried out research to identify if various factors (motivation and expectations, respectively) affected perception.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Factors Affecting Perception

    What are the three main factors affecting perception?

    Examples of three main factors that affect perception are:

    1. Motivation 
    2. Emotion 
    3. Expectation 

    What are the 3 types of perception?

    Perception is information that is directed to our brain for processing from our senses. Examples of three types of perception are:

    • visual 
    • auditory 
    • olfactory (smell)

    What are the 4 stages of the perception process?

    The four stages of the perception process are:

    1. sensory information is directed to the brain to be processed 
    2. the information is organised (based on what type of sensory information is) 
    3. the information is interpreted/ processed
    4. the processed information is finally stored in our memory  

    What are the barriers to perception?

    Barriers to perception are potential factors that may affect the accuracy of our perception. Examples of these are:

    • Motivation
    • Culture
    • Emotion
    • Expectations

    What are the features of perception?

    Some features of perception are:

    • grouping
    • constancy (the ability of the perpetual system to identify the same thing, e.g. colour or shape, because it has been processed before) 
    • contrast

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What type of factors are intensity, changes, magnitude and repetition called? 

    What type of factors are culture, motivation, emotion and expectation called? 

    Who concluded that hunger can affect how objects are perceived? 

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