What is Perception?


Perception forms one of the main concepts in modern psychology due to a number of factors (Ionescu et al., 2022). On the one hand, it defines the recognition of any incoming sensory information. Since the earliest times, this process was crucial for our survival. The dominant channels such as audial, visual or kinaesthetic ones largely determine the capability to recognise certain cues in the external environment. On the other hand, our perception also defines the way people respond to these external challenges (Dosher and Lu, 2020). If the incoming information is fractional, incomplete or biased, this impairs the capability to make informed decisions and engage in productive behaviours. The complexity of this concept has led to the development of multiple research approaches that also incorporate recent medical studies in this field. This essay explores the concept of perception in psychology from the standpoint of its both physiological meanings and the theories of perception explaining its influence on the way people react to different situations.


Physiological Perception Components

From a physiological standpoint, perception is based on a number of sensory systems including sight, hearing, physical sensations, taste, and others (Fish, 2021). These organs capture external information and convert it into signals transferred by the nervous system and processed by the brain. With that being said, such authors as Marken (2021) note that perception is not limited by the passive input of data. The processed information is recognised on the basis of past memories, interiorised knowledge systems such as languages, and other cognitive mechanisms. This means that it is compared with some existing reference systems, which inevitably affects the perception process itself. For example, people from different countries call the same wavelength reflection by different terms referring to colour in their native languages (Coren and Girgus, 2022). From a psychology standpoint, this also means that information input may not be processed in full or may be discarded due to physiological or psychological traumas. In this scenario, a colour-blind person will not recognise the red colour while a person while people with perceptual dysfunctions may experience hallucinations created by their brain cells even if the information producing them is not present in the sensory system.

Sensory organs include eyes, ears, nose, skin, and mouth that are responsible for multiple sensory systems including the visual system, the auditory system, the olfactory system, the somatosensory system, and the gustatory system correspondingly (Lee et al., 2019). Additionally, there exist internal mechanisms such as the inner ear or interoception elements that help humans analyse their inner sensations such as pain, discomfort or tension. These two systems may overlap as a sense of hunger may force people to actively look for food-like objects in the nearby environment. Similarly, some colours, smells or kinaesthetic experiences may create a range of inner physiological response options ranging from relaxation to nausea or vertigo (Skov and Nadal, 2022). The systems are linked via the transduction mechanisms involving sensory receptors including cone and rode cells in human eyes and hair cells in the inner ear. These incoming signals are coded into electrical signals sent forth to the brain. However, physiological problems may create different sorts of distortion in these mechanisms. As a result, such information may not be registered properly or may not be properly delivered and coded, which leads to cognitive errors.

With that being said, perception channels do not operate in isolation, which creates the multimodal stimuli effect (Cheng et al., 2021). As a result, visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic information may have a greater cumulative impact. This effect is widely applied in advertising and entertainment spheres as well as sound and visual arts. On the one hand, some researchers suggest that these spheres utilise the evolutionary models embedded at a physiological level to trigger certain emotions and stimulus-response mechanisms. They are deemed responsible for people seeing certain colour combinations or sounds as pleasant or unpleasant due to their alignment with deeply interiorised survival instincts. On the other hand, such authors as Pautz (2021) note that such positive or negative connotations may be culturally interiorised during a person’s growth and socialisation. In this scenario, the incoming information is viewed as a system of complex symbols rather than a stream of sheer perception without any references to existing views and memories. This standpoint may be partially supported by the earlier discussed concept of multimodal integration where physical objects are simultaneously perceived through a combination of perceptual experiences delivered via visual, audial, and kinaesthetic channels.

Finally, the aforementioned five senses can be generally subdivided into three main perceptive channels, namely the visual, the auditory, and the kinaesthetic (VAK) ones (Mora et al., 2021). It is widely accepted that people usually have one dominant option, which affects the type and composition of information they receive as well as their preferences in processing it. From the standpoint of the psychology of learning, this means that knowledge about the main channel of perception of a certain person can help teachers deliver data to them more effectively (Abella et al., 2022). The same is true for human communication in general as the persons using the same styles as well as the verbal forms referring to them can establish better rapport and understanding. The earlier mentioned multimodal stimuli effect may also be used in this field as a way of developing universal learning and advertising materials that can be effectively processed by people with different dominant VAK channels.


Key Perception Theories in Psychology

There exist multiple perception theories exploring the relationship between perception and consequent behaviours of humans (Holt et al., 2019). Behaviourism may be seen as one of the earliest theories in this field. It links perceptual stimuli with different response activities such as different colours affecting the levels of the human appetite. While this theory may be recognised as a basic one and is frequently criticised for extrapolating animal reflexes to complex human response patterns, it found its evolution in social learning theories by Bandura (1977) and other scholars. In their experiments, the persons observing the behaviours of others were motivated to imitate them if they led to positive results. This mechanism is also evident in the formation of habits where certain experiments lead to the desired outcomes, which creates a self-sustaining feedback loop. When such persons perceive certain information afterwards, their brain immediately marks it as a cue and links it with pleasure and positive emotions. This makes it difficult to break addictive habits and forces the persons trying to lose weight or stop smoking to physically remove provocative items and people with problematic behaviours from their field of sight.

The empiricist approach utilises a more complex idea based on the assumption that sensory information does not reflect the full sensory experience (Hooker, 1973). According to the proponents of this theory, it is achieved via a combination of data stored in the human brain with incoming perceptions. This means that newborn babies build their systems and knowledge storage mechanisms as they proceed towards adulthood. As a result, new perceptual information is always compared with past facts and structures linking it with definitions, past experiences, and complex concepts. While this allows people to enjoy art and engage in other multi-layered experiences, this also explains various sorts of cognitive bias (Allen, 2020). For example, a negative past encounter with a certain sensory information type may convince the person to avoid the repetition of such encounters and limit their perception of the world in the future. It should also be noted that the aforementioned differences in dominant perception channels and human physiologies can lead to different experiences of the same events and phenomena. In this situation, empiricist reasoning is inherently subjective, which limits its compatibility with scientific knowledge.

The Gibsonian approach lies in the foundation of perceptual psychology and assumes that people appraise various objects from the standpoint of their perceived utility and usability (Wagman and Blau, 2020). This mechanism is embedded in human nature as a survival mechanism allowing humanity to overcome past challenges throughout its history. As a result, sensory perception is deemed as an evolutionary system that is shared by most individuals. This assumption has been extensively used in ergonomics and other fields that need to develop universally convenient systems that work equally well for the majority of people using them. They largely rely on Gibson’s concepts of optical flow presenting all moving and static objects in the visual field and affordance representing the perceived opportunities for possible actions associated with them (Wagman and Blau, 2020). In this scenario, all observations of the environment highlight the expected usability of surrounding items rather than their qualities and characteristics such as shape, weight or colour. This functional approach has been proven effective in many fields including aviation where persons have to rely on reflexes and instincts and the design of specific control systems and interfaces has to stimulate their natural innate intentions to perform some actions. This may refer to perceptions of red lights as a threat or the physical realisation of levers and switches that have to be used without thinking too much.

Template theories of perception take a different approach and assume that human minds store millions of templates combining different audial, visual, and kinaesthetic data (Selfridge and Neisser, 1960). These stored patterns are then compared with new perceptual information to find matching elements allowing a person to attribute the observed objects to some existing categories. This approach is similar to the scanning of bar codes in retail or the recognition of printed letters by scanning software. The viability of these theories was confirmed by the analysis of both human brains (Campitelli et al., 2007) as well as machine learning research (Kashyap, 2017). Neural networks imitating human perception and cognition patterns can effectively recognise objects seen on still images in terms of their names, functional categories, and other important characteristics. These findings imply that brain templates may largely determine the way people think since human brains attempt to automate most routine and mundane operations including perception. Unfortunately, this may also lead to the aforementioned cognitive biases if new objects and concepts are erroneously attributed to the wrong templates.

Finally, the information processing approach is another theory centred around the processing phase of perception (Brown and Macpherson, 2020). It also views human brains as systems similar to computers, which leads to a number of assumptions. Information is obtained from the environment via the five senses. However, the capability of the brain to effectively process it depends on short-term memory, attention span, and other physiological characteristics making it impossible to process unlimited amounts of data. If there exist multiple input processes that require simultaneous attention, this may further slow down the processing of data and the production of outputs in the form of decisions or actions (Stokes, 2021). With that being said, a large part of perception occurs beyond the sensory level and involves ‘neural firing’ mechanisms associating new information with stored memories and concepts. This makes it difficult to label information using the VAK criteria since inputs can be enriched by additional data provided by the brain. In this scenario, the outputs may contain more data than the amount of data originally entering the system of perception.



It can be summarised that perception is a complex process occurring at multiple levels within the human body (Coren and Girgus, 2022). On the one hand, it involves the five senses providing input information on images, sounds, tastes, physical sensations, environmental temperatures, and other diverse objects, conditions, and events. At this level, the quality of data can be affected by physical problems as well as various bodily dysfunctions leading to missing or distorted outputs such as hallucinations. On the other hand, such models as the information processing theory, the Gibsonian approach, and the template theories of perception imply that the brain may have an equal or greater impact on the processing of VAK stimuli and its transformation into specific response behaviours and decisions (Lee et al., 2019). Specific influence factors may include personal memories, past traumas, and beliefs as well as physiological characteristics such as attention span, long-term memory capacity, and the capability to process multiple streams of information. As a result, individual processing outputs may vary substantially even in the case of the same inputs (Pautz, 2021). These findings suggest that the analysed concept may require further research at both physiological and cognitive levels in order to provide further insights into the nature of perception.



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