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The Stages of Human Perceptual Process

Perception is generally defined as the process by which a person assimilates and makes use of sensory data. In other words, perception is the selection, organization, and interpretation of sensory data. Perception studies are imperative because perception eventually leads to behavior. People behave in accordance with what they perceive.

Perception is generally defined as the process by which a person assimilates and makes use of sensory data. In other words, perception is the selection, organization, and interpretation of sensory data. Perception studies are imperative because perception eventually leads to behavior. People behave in accordance with what they perceive. Cook and Hunsaker (2001: 162) bring out this fact in their explanation of the meaning of perception. According to them, “it is the critically important process that helps people define their world and provide clues for guiding their behavior………our perceptions are our personal reality, whether they are objective or not”.   Our perception determines our behavior.

The human perceptual process begins from stimuli and ends with behavior. The process of perception begins with environmental stimuli. A person is bombarded with multiple sensory stimuli and because it is impossible to attend to them all, a person responds to meaningful stimuli and minimizes or ignores others. This selection process is influenced by the perceiver, the perceived, and the setting. The perceiver is said to influence the selection process because a person tends to perceive what he or she needs, wants and expects to see. The physical, mental and emotional conditions of the perceive affects attentiveness and selection. The perceived is influential in the perceptual process in that certain general attributes of the perceived object, person or idea influenced what is noticed and what is not. The nature of the setting therefore influences what is perceived as appropriate or normal.

The next step after sensory stimuli has been selected and received, is to organize the various stimuli into more meaningful patterns. This is done in three ways – classification, figure-ground differentiation, and closure. We classify people in variety of categories such as age, gender, race, nationality, physical categories, education, occupation, and status. Similarly, we attach the assumptions, beliefs and attitudes we hold about those groupings. In classifying sensory inputs, we are able to sort and recall data faster than if we did not have an organizational system. However, classification can also lead to stereotypes and inaccurate perceptions. Figure-ground differentiation   helps the perceiver to distinguish figure (dominant features) from ground (surrounding, competing stimuli). What we see depends on what we see as figure and what we see as ground. We attend selectively to stimuli by focusing on features that capture our attention. If normal channels of sensory awareness receive incomplete information, the mind often fills in the gaps. This is known as perceptual closure.  It occurs when we receive some data that we judge important and incomplete.  When perpetual closure occurred, we allow our minds to fill in the missing data, especially if the situation or topic is familiar.

The next step is interpretation. Interpretation has to do with our current beliefs, assumptions, values and attitudes as well as our past learning and experiences. The beliefs, assumptions, values, attitudes, past learning and experiences combine to form an individual frame of reference, which is a mental filter through which perceptions are interpreted and evaluated. The perceptual interpretations and evaluation translate to personal meaning and intention, which further influence behavior in line with the personal meaning and intention.

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