June 17, 2024



Before we discuss the meaning of perception comprehensively, we analyse the term ‘Cognitive Process.’

Cognition is the act of knowing an item of information.

Cognition precedes behaviour. It provides input into a person’s thinking and perception.

Information can be known from the stimulus like overt and covert physical factors, social and cultural factors, technological and mechanical factors, environmental factors and the international factors.

Information can be known through the sensory organs like eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin.

Cognitive process is a complex one as it involves the collection of information from many sources and through different sensory organs, supplies this information to the cognitive mediators, arranging the information in a sequential order.

Cognitive Process

Collection of Information
From (Sources)Through
External Environment (Outside the human body) Internal Environment (with in the Human body)Sensory Organs (Eyes, Ears,. Nose, Mouth, Skin)
Arrange Information in an order  
Supply of Information to Mediators

Cognition and perception

Now, we analyse the meaning of perception with the help of the example stated above. The General Manager did not see Mr. Prakash in his office or he did not hear from anybody that Mr. Prakash has come to the office before 10.25 a.m. Therefore, his cognitive process provided him the picture that Mr. Prakash was not available in the office. Thus, it yielded this unique picture to the General Manager. In fact, the reality was that Mr. Prakash had come to the office even before 10.00 a.m. and he had been on duty upto 10.20 a.m. in the production department. Therefore, the unique picture that the General Manager’s cognitive process yielded is quite different from the reality. Thus, perception is the picture, yielded by the cognitive process which need not be the reality or the correct one.

Perception is not necessarily just what one sees with his own eyes or what one listens with his own ears. Perception is a unique interpretation of the situation, not an exact recording of it.


The process by which we recognise, interpret or give meaning to the information provided by sense organs is called perception.

In interpreting stimuli or events, individuals often construct them in their own ways. Thus perception is not merely an interpretation of objects or events of the external or internal world as they exist, instead it is also a construction of those objects and events from one’s own point of view.

Fred Luthans defines the term perception as a very complex cognitive process that yields a unique picture of the world, a picture that may be quite different from reality.

Uma Sekharan defines perception as, “the process through which people select, organise and interpret or attach meaning to events happening in the environment.”

Stephen P. Robbins defines perception as “a process by which individuals organise and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environments.”

Perception includes all those process by which an individual receives information about the environment seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. The study of these perceptual process shows that their functioning is affected by three classes of variables: the object or event being perceived, the environment in which perception occurs and the individual doing the perceiving.

Sensation Vs Perception

Sensory organs like eyes and ears collect the data from the environment. The physical senses are vision, touch, smell, taste and hearing. These are the five senses. Some of us believe in the sixth sense. This sixth sense is mostly called “intuition.” The physical senses are bombarded by numerous external and internal stimuli.


Stimuli is an enabling or disabling factor to act or not to act within an individual.

Stimuli is of two type viz., External stimuli and Internal stimuli.

External stimuli include heat waves in the summer, cold waves in the winter, light waves in the day time, sound waves of a factory, smell from the kitchen/ garden.

Internal stimuli include food passing through the digestive system, internal comfort or discomfort and actions and reactions caused by the physiological functioning.

Sensation is the experience we get by touching a baby, seeing a picture or an incident, listening to a conversation, smelling a flower or tasting food.

For example, yesterday you saw your subordinate sharing information with your boss in the latter’s chamber. You overheard their conversation. Your subordinate was referring your name in their conversation. In this example sensation is observing your boss and the subordinate and listening to their conversation. Perception is more than seeing and listening, it is broader than sensation.

Perception is a complicated interaction of selection, organisation and interpretation. Now, we extend the same example. The addition to this example is that, yesterday you have warned your subordinate regarding his inefficiency in achieving the targets. Therefore, you perceived that your subordinate is lodging a complaint against you with your boss.

Thus, the perceptual process is broader and complex. It organises and interprets the raw data collected by the senses both from internal and external sources. Further, perceptual process adds to and subtracts from the data collected by the senses. Thus, sensation is part of the perceptual process. And perceptual process is broader and complex than sensation.

With this background of the meaning of perception and the difference between sensation and perception, we shall now discuss the perceptual process.

Perceptual Process

Perception is a process consisting of several sub-processes. We can take an input- through put-output approach to understand the dynamics of the perceptual process.

 The approach emphasizes that there is an input which is events, or people-can be considered as the perceptual inputs. The stimuli in the environment-subject, event or people can be considered as perpetual inputs, the actual transformation of these inputs through the perceptual, mechanism of selection, organisation and interpretation can be treated as through puts, and the resulted opinion, feeling, attitude etc. which if influences our behaviour, can be viewed as perceptual out puts.

Input (information, object, event, people)Selection Organization Interpretation  Output (attitude, values, belief, Feeling, emotion)Behaviour

Perceptual Input:  The first process in the perception is-presence of stimuli or situations which confront the human being. These may be in form of people, object, events, information, conversation, etc. So the perception process cannot start in the absence of stimuli.

The actual perception process starts with the receipt of stimuli or data from various sources: Most data is received through five organs. Thus, reception of stimuli is a ‘physiological aspect of perception process.

Perceptual selection: We get input information and data and then process of selection starts. We don’t consider all information pertinent. After receiving the stimuli or data, some are selected for further processing while others, are screened out because it is not possible for a person to select all stimuli for processing.  

Selectivity depends upon both external and internal factors

 External factor includes: intensity, size, contrast, repetition, motion, novelty, and familiarity.

Internal factors: values interest, learning, motivation, personality, experience and attitude and perceiver’s self-acceptance.  Normally we select the objects in which we are interested and avoid for which we are indifferent.

Perceptual Organisation

After selecting the inputs from the external environment, based on the influences of the internal environmental factors, we have to organize the inputs in a logical and sequential manner. Therefore, perceptual organisation is the next logical step in the perception process.

The data and information have to be organised in a logical and sequential way in order to get a meaningful whole or to make-sense out of them,

Such Organisation of stimuli may take the form of. –

(i) Figure-ground  – More attention is paid to phenomenon which have been kept as figure and lose attention to phenomenon kept in background.

For examples, while reading a book, the letters printed are treated as figure while the page on which the letters have been printed is taken as background.

(ii) Grouping – In grouping, the perceiver groups the various stimuli on the basis of their similarity or proximity. Thus, all such stimuli which have been grouped together are likely

to be perceived as having same characteristics.

For example: all the workers may be perceived to have same opinion about the management because of grouping on the basis of similarity or all the persons coming from the same place may be perceived as having same characteristics because;

of grouping on the basis of proximity.

(iii) Simplification  – Whenever people are overloaded with information, they try to simplify it to make more meaningful and understandable.

(iv) Closure  – When faced with incomplete information, people fill up the gap themselves to make the information meaningful. This may be done on the basis of past experience, past data or hunches.

Perceptual interpretation:

The perceiver after selecting and organizing the stimuli/information has to interpret them in order to make a sensible meaning. The sensible meaning, thus arrived will help the perceiver to make decisions or to act in the situation. The perceiver cannot draw any meaning without the interpretation. The perceiver uses his assumptions of people, things, objects and situations. He makes attributions, uses his judgemental skills, distorts information, adds/deletes information, brings his own subjective feelings, opinions and emotions in interpreting and drawing the meaning. Sometimes, the perceiver tries to fabricate the meaning based on their biases. The perceiver should be emotionally free to interpret and to draw bias- free meanings. Bias and absence of seriousness on the part of the perceiver tend to distort/ignore some stimuli/information which are unpleasant to him. Therefore, our perceptions based on cognitive preferences could not reflect the reality.

Thus, a number of factors affect the interpretation process

Perceptual output:

Action is the output aspect of perceptual process. The action may be covert or overt. The covert action may be in the form of formation of new attitude or change in attitudes, opinions feelings, values and impression resulting from the perceptual inputs and throughputs. The overt action may be in the form of behaviour which is easily visible.

Factors that influence Perception:

A number of factors operate to shape and sometimes distort perception. These factors are as follows:

  1. Characteristics of the perceiver
  2. Characteristics of target or perceived
  3. Characteristics of situation

Characteristics of the perceiver

  • Values
  • Attitudes
  • Motives
  • Interests
  • Experience
  • Expectations
  • Moods
  • Self concept
  • Cognitive process

Characteristics of target or perceived

  • Novelty
  • Motion
  • Sounds
  • Size
  • Background
  • Proximity
  • Similarity
  • Physical appearance
  • Communication both verbal and on verbal

Characteristics of situation

  • Time
  • Physical location
  • Social setting
  • Work and organisational setting

Person Perception: Making Judgments About Others

Attribution Theory

Attribution is the way/method of explaining the causes for another’s behaviour or their own behaviour. We explain the causes for our success like intelligence, presence of mind, competence etc. and causes for others’ failure as unfavourable environmental factors. Thus, attribution is the process by which people draw conclusions about the factors that influences our own or another’s behaviour

When individuals observe behavior, they attempt to determine whether it is internally or externally caused.

Attribution is of two types viz., (a) dispositional attributions and (b) situational attributions.

Dispositional attributions refer to internal factors for one’s own or others behaviour. These internal factors include personality traits, motivation, intelligence, ability etc.

Situational attributions refer to external factors for one’s own or other’s behaviour.

Attributions plays an important role in perception at the work place and organisational situations. People behave as they do. Why determine several reasons for the behaviours of the people.

Harold Kelley proposed a model, which tends to explain how people determine about the other’s behaviour. This model suggests three major factors on which people focus while making casual attributions. These factors are:

Distinctiveness:          shows different behaviors in different situations. Distinctiveness refers to the extent to which the same person behaves in the same way in different circumstances

Consensus:                 response is the same as others to same situation. Consensus is behaving in the same fashion as others behave in the same situation under the same circumstances

Consistency:   responds in the same way over time If a person behaves in the same way in different situations that behaviour is viewed as consistently similar

Errors and Biases in Attributions

Fundamental Attribution Error

We tend to measure the behaviour of other people through their internal characteristics rather than the external environmental factors. This is called fundamental attribution error.

The attribution error is defined as “the tendency to underestimate the impact of external causes of behaviour and to overestimate the impact of internal causes when trying to understand why people behave the way they do

Self-Serving Bias

The tendency for individuals to attribute their own successes to internal factors while putting the blame for failures on external factors

Frequently Used Shortcuts/Errors in Perception or Judging Others

Selective Perception

People selectively interpret what they see on the basis of their interests, background, experience, and attitudes.

Halo Effect

Drawing a general impression about an individual on the basis of a single characteristic

Contrast Effects

Evaluation of a person’s characteristics that are affected by comparisons with other people recently encountered who rank higher or lower on the same characteristics

Consider what happens when a manager interviews job candidates from a pool of applicants. The evaluation of a candidate can be affected by his or her place in the inter-view schedule. The candidate is likely to receive a better evaluation if interviewed after a mediocre applicant, and a worse evaluation if interviewed after a strong applicant.


Attributing one’s own characteristics to other people.

The superior who is a hard worker assigns the same character of hard working to his subordinates in appraising them.

People who engage in projection tend to perceive others according to what they themselves are like rather than perceiving others as they really are.


Judging someone on the basis of one’s perception of the group to which that person belongs. Stereotyping differs from the halo effect in that the latter is based on a single characteristic of the individual, rather than the individual’s membership in a particular group


Prejudice is an unfounded dislike of a person or group based on their belonging to a particular stereotyped group. For instance, an individual may dislike people of a particular religion, or state that she does not want to work with someone of a particular ethnicity.

Prejudice can lead to negative consequences in the workplace and, in particular, to discrimination.

For instance, an individual of a particular ethnic group might be passed over for a management position because of the belief that employees might not see that person as a good manager. In another instance, an individual in his fifties who is looking for work but cannot find a job may be discriminated against because of the belief that younger workers are more appealing than older workers. Prejudice generally starts with stereotypes and then has negative emotional content added.

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