Perceptual Mechanism

19/09/2022 0 By indiafreenotes

Perceptual Inputs:

A number of stimuli are constantly confronting people in the form of information, objects, events, people etc. in the environment. These serve as the inputs of the perceptual process. A few of the stimuli affecting the senses are the noise of the air coolers, the sound of other people talking and moving, outside noises from the vehicular traffic or a street repair shop or a loud speaker playing somewhere plus the impact of the total environmental situation. Some stimuli do not affect the senses of a person consciously, a process called subliminal perception.

Perceptual Mechanism:

When a person receives information, he tries to process it through the following sub processes of selection, organisation and interpretation.

(A) Perceptual Selectivity:

Many things are taking place in the environment simultaneously. However, one cannot pay equal attention to all these things, thus the need of perceptual selectivity. Perceptual selectivity refers to the tendency to select certain objects from the environment for attention. The objects which are selected are those which are relevant and appropriate for an individual or those which are consistent with our existing beliefs, values and needs. For this, we need to screen or filter out most of them so that we may deal with the important or relevant ones.

The following factors govern the selection of stimuli:

(i) External Factors

(ii) Internal Factors

Various external and internal factors which affect our selection process are as explained below:

(i) External Factors:

(a) Size:

The bigger the size of the stimulus, the higher is the probability that it is perceived. Size always attracts the attention, because it establishes dominance. The size may be the height or weight of an individual, sign board of a shop, or the space devoted to an advertisement in the newspaper. A very tall person will always stand out in the crowd on the other hand; a very short person will also attract attention. A full page advertisement will always catch attention as compared to a few lines in the classified section.

(b) Intensity:

Intensity attracts to increase the selective perception. A few examples of intensity are yelling or whispering, very bright colours, very bright or very dim lights. Intensity will also include behavioural intensity. If the office order says “Report to the boss immediately,” it will be more intense and effective as compared to the office order which says “Make it convenient to meet the boss today.”

(c) Repetition:

The repetition principle states that a repeated external stimulus is more attention drawing than a single one. Because of this principle, supervisors make it a point to give the necessary directions again and again to the workers. Similarly, the same advertisement or different advertisement but for the same product shown, again and again on the TV will have more attention as compared to an advertisement which is shown once a day.

(d) Status:

High status people ran exerts greater influence on the perception of the employees than the low status people. There will always be different reactions to the orders given by the foreman, the supervisor or the production manager.

(e) Contrast:

An object which contrasts with the surrounding environment is more likely to be noticed than the object which blends in the environment. For example, the Exit signs in the cinema halls which have red lettering on a black background are attention drawing or a warning sign in a factory, such as Danger, written in black against a red or yellow background will be easily noticeable. In a room if there are twenty men and one woman, the woman will be noticed first because of the contrast.

(f) Movement:

The principle of motion states that a moving object receives more attention than an object which is standing still. A moving car among the parked cars catches our attention faster. A flashing neon-sign is more easily noticed.

(g) Novelty and Familiarity:

This principle states that either a novel or a familiar external situation can serve as an attention getter. New objects in the familiar settings or familiar objects in new settings will draw the attention of the perceiver. A familiar face on a crowded railway platform will immediately catch attention. Because of this principle, the managers change the workers jobs from time to time, because it will increase the attention they give to their jobs.

(h) Nature:

By nature we mean, whether the object is visual or auditory and whether it involves pictures, people or animals. It is well known that pictures attract more attention than words. Video attracts more attention than still pictures. A picture with human beings attracts more attention than a picture with animals.

(ii) Internal Factors:

The internal factors relate to the perceiver. Perceiving people is very important for a manager, because behaviour occurs as a result of behaviour.

Following are the internal factors which affect perception:

  1. Learning:

Although interrelated with other internal factors learning may play the single biggest role in developing perceptual set. A perceptual set is basically what a person expects from the stimuli on the basis of his learning and experience relative to same or similar stimuli. This perceptual set is also known as cognitive awareness by which the mind organizes information and forms images and compares them with previous exposures to similar stimuli. A number of illustrations have been used by psychologists to demonstrate the impact of learning on perception.

Some are as explained below:

(i) Learning creates an expectancy in an individual and expectancy makes him see what he wants to see.

  1. Motivation:

Besides the learning aspects of the perceptual set, motivation also has a vital impact on perceptual selectivity. For example, a person who has a relatively high need for power, affiliation or achievement will be more attentive to the relevant situational variables. For example, when such a person walks into the lunch room, he may go to the table where several of his co-workers are sitting, rather than a table which is empty or on which just one person is sitting.

Another example is that a hungry person will be more sensitive to the smell or sight of food than a non-hungry person. In one experiment people who were kept hungry for some time were shown some pictures and were asked to describe what they saw in them. Most of the reported more food items in such perceptions.


Closely related to learning and motivation is the personality of the perceiving person. For example, the older senior executives often complain about the inability of the new young manager to take tough decisions concerning terminating or reassigning people and paying attention to details and paper work. The young managers, in turn, complain about the ‘old guards’ resisting change and using paper and rules as ends in themselves. Different perceptions in young and old are due to their age differences. Further, the generation gap witnessed in recent years definitely contributes to different perceptions.

In addition to the above two problems another problem is about the woman in the work place. Women are still not reaching the top levels of organisations. At least part of this problem can be attributed to perceptual barriers such as the established managerial hierarchy is not able to see (perceive) that qualified woman should be promoted into top level positions. Of course, there are individual differences in all age categories but the above examples show that how personalities, values and even age may affect the way people perceive the world around them.

  1. Perceptual Organisation:

After having selectively absorbed the data from the range of stimuli we are exposed to at any given time, we then try to organize the perceptual inputs in such a manner that would facilitate us to extract meaning out of what we perceive. Or in other words, person’s perceptual process organizes the incoming information into a meaningful whole. While selection is a subjective process, organizing is a cognitive process.

How we organize the stimuli is primarily based on the following principles:

(i) Figure and Ground:

Figure-Ground principle is generally considered to be the most basic form of perceptual organisation. This principle simply implies that the perceived object or person or event stands out distinct from its back ground and occupies the cognitive space of the individual. For example, as you read this page, you see white as the background and black as the letters or words to be read. You do not try to understand what the white spaces amidst the black letters could mean.

Likewise, in the organisational setting, some people are more noticed or stand out than others. For example, an individual in the organisation might try to focus his entire attention on his immediate supervisor, trying to be in his good books, completely ignoring his colleagues and how they feel about his behaviour. According to this principle, thus, the perceiver tends to organize only the information which stands out in the environment which seems to be significant to the individual.

(ii) Perceptual Grouping:

Grouping is the tendency to curb individual stimuli into meaningful patterns. For instance, if we perceive objects or people with similar characteristics, we tend to group them together and this organizing mechanism helps us to deal with information in an efficient way rather than getting bogged down and confused with so many details. This tendency of grouping is very basic in nature and largely seems to be inborn.

Some of the factors underlying his grouping are:

(a) Similarity:

The principle of similarity states that the greater the similarity of the stimuli, the greater the tendency to perceive them as a common group. The principle of similarity is exemplified when objects of similar shape, size or colour tend to be grouped together. For example, if all visitors to a plant are required to wear white hats while the supervisors wear blue hats, the workers can identify all the white hats as the group of visitors. Another example is our general tendency to perceive minority and women employees as a single group.

(b) Proximity:

The principle of proximity or nearness states that a group of stimuli that are close together will be perceived as a whole pattern of parts belonging together. For example, several people working on a machine will be considered as a single group so that if the productivity on that particular machine is low, then the entire group will be considered responsible even though, only some people in the group may be inefficient. The following figure demonstrates the proximity principle.

(c) Closure:

The principle of closure relates to the tendencies of the people to perceive objects as a whole, even when some parts of the object are missing. The person’s perceptual process will close the gaps that are unfilled from sensory input.

(d) Continuity:

Continuity is closely related to closure. But there is a difference. Closure supplies missing stimuli, whereas the continuity principle says that a person will tend to perceive continuous lines of pattern. The continuity may lead to inflexible or non creative thinking on the part of the organisational participants. Only the obvious patterns or relationships will be perceived. Because of this type of perception, the inflexible managers may require that employers follow a set and step by step routine leaving no ground for implementation of out of line innovative ideas.

(iii) Perceptual Constancy:

Constancy is one of the more sophisticated forms of perceptual organisation. This concept gives a person a sense of stability in this changing world. This principle permits the individuals to have some constancy or stability in a tremendously variable and highly complex world. If constancy were not at work, the world would be very chaotic and dis-organised for the individual.

There are several aspects of constancy:

(a) Shape Constancy:

Whenever an object appears to maintain its shape despite marked changes in the retinal image e.g. the top of a glass bottle is seen as circular whether we view it from the side or from the top.

(b) Size Constancy:

The size constancy refers to the fact that as an object is moved farther away from us we tend to see it as more or less un-variant in size. For example, the players in cricket field on the opposite side of the field do not look smaller than those closer to you even though their images on the retina of the eye are much smaller.

(c) Colour Constancy:

Colour constancy implies that familiar objects are perceived to be of the same colour in varied conditions. The owner of a red car sees it as red in the bright sunlight as well as in dim twilight. Without perceptual constancy the size, shape and colour of objects would change as the worker moved about and it would make the job almost impossible.

(iv) Perceptual Context:

The highest and most sophisticated forms of organisation are context. It gives meaning and value to simple stimuli, objects, events, situations and other persons in the environment. The organisational structure and culture provide the primary context in which workers and managers do their perceiving. For example, a verbal order, a new policy, a pat on the back, a raised eye brow or a suggestion takes on special meaning when placed in the context of the work organisation.

(v) Perceptual Defence:

Closely related to perceptual context is the perceptual defence. A person may build a defence against stimuli or situational events in a particular context that are personally or culturally unacceptable or threatening. Accordingly, perceptual defence may play a very important role in understanding union-management and supervisor-subordinate relationship. Most studies verify the existence of a perceptual defence mechanism.

The general conclusions drawn from these studies are that people may learn to avoid certain conflicting, threatening or unacceptable aspects of the context. The various defenses may be denial of an aspect, by modification and distortion, by change in the perception, then the last but not the least is recognition but refusal to change.

  1. Perceptual Interpretation:

Perceptual interpretation is an integral part of the perception process. Without interpretation, selection and organisation of information do not make any sense. After the information has been received and organised, the perceiver interprets or assigns meaning to the information. In fact, perception is said to have taken place only after the data have been interpreted. Several factors contribute towards the interpretation of data.

More important among them are perceptual set, attribution, stereotyping, halo effect, perceptual context, perceptual defence, implicit personality theory and projection. It may also be noted that in the process of interpretation, people tend to become judgmental. They may tend to distort what they see and even ignore things that they feel are unpleasant.

  1. Checking:

After data have been received and interpreted, the perceiver tends to check whether his interpretations are right or wrong. One way of checking is for the person himself to indulge in introspection. He will put a series of questions to himself and the answers will confirm whether his perception about an individual or object is correct or otherwise. Another way is to check the validity of the interpretation with others.

  1. Reacting:

The last stage in perception is the reaction. The perceiver shall indulge in some action in relation to the perception. The action depends on whether the perception is favourable or unfavourable. It is negative when the perception is unfavourable and the action is positive when the perception is favourable.

III. Perceptual Outputs:

Perceptual outputs encompass all that results from the throughout process. These would include such factors as one’s attitudes, opinions, feelings, values and behaviours resulting from the perceptual inputs and throughputs. Perceptual errors adversely affect the perceptual outputs. The lesser our biases in perception, the better our chances of perceiving reality as it exists or at least perceiving situations with the minimum amount of distortions.

This will help us to form the right attitudes and engage in appropriate behavioural patterns, which in turn will be beneficial for attaining the desired organisational outcomes. It is essentially important for managers who are responsible for organisational results to enhance their skills in order to develop the right attitudes and behaviours.