What is perception & its core approaches as per different psychologist ?

Meaning of Perception

Perception word originated from Latin– word perceptio, percipio.

Basic meaning of perception is Organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment.

Perception is a process of selecting, organizing & interpreting the sensory information based on previous experiences, other’s
experiences, need or expectation.

Perception is the psychological process responsible for our interpretation of the world.

Definition of perception

Perception is the set of processes by which we recognize, organize, and make sense of the sensations we receive from environmental stimuli (Goodale, 2000a; Pomerantz, 2003).

  • Visual perception
  • Auditory perception (the two best studied forms)
  • Olfactory perception,
  • Haptic (touch) perception
  • Gustatory (taste) perception.

Stages of Perception

Stage I: Selection- Our brain has limited capacity, thus, it cannot attend to all stimuli. We unconsciously / consciously select some stimuli and ignore others.

Stage II: Organization– Here, stimuli are arranged mentally in a meaningful pattern. It is an unconscious process that depends upon the Gestalt principles of organisation. It will help you understand how humans naturally organize stimuli to make a meaningful pattern and interpret it so.

Stage III: Interpretation – Here, we assign meaning to the organized stimuli. Interpretation of the stimuli is based on one’s experiences, needs, beliefs, expectations,  and other factors. Thus, this stage is subjective in nature and the same stimuli can be interpreted differently by individuals.

Approaches to Perception

  1. Theoretical Approaches to Perception
  2. Classic Approach to Perception
  3. Gestalt Approach of Perception 

1. Theoretical Approaches to Perception

There are two theoretical approaches to explain the process of perception.

  1. Top-down processing–  Pioneer –Richard Gregory; Process of perception is direct; Perception is a data driven process i.e., stimuli carries sufficient information to be interpreted meaningfully and we don’t need to rely on our experiences.
  2. Bottom-up processing approach Pioneer – J. J. Gibson; Process of perception is indirect; Perception is an experience driven process i.e., stimuli don’t have sufficient information to be interpreted meaningfully and therefore, we need to rely on our experiences.

2. Classic Approach to Perception

James Gibson (1966) provided us a useful ‘classic approach’ for studying perception. through these

  • The distal (far) object – the object in the external world (e.g., a tree).
  • Informational  medium – reflected light, sound waves, chemical molecules or tactile information coming from the environment.
  • Proximal (near) stimulation – i.e., the cells in your retina absorb the light waves.
  • Perceptual object  – created in you that reflects the properties of the external world. i.e perception. An image of a tree is created on your retina that reflects the falling tree that is in front of you.
  • Perceptual modality – system for a particular sense, such as touch or smell.
Perceptual ModalityDistal (far) ObjectInformational  MediumProximal (near) StimulationPerceptual 
Vision – SightFace of childReflected light from facePhotons absorbed in Rod & Cone cells of retinaFace of child
Auditory– SoundMobile RingSound wavesSound waves received by Basilar membraneMobile Ring
Olfactory– SmellSmell of fishMolecules released by fishMolecule received by nasal cavitySmell of fish
Haptic –TouchKeyboardMechanical pressure & vibration releasedStimulation received skinKeyboard
Gustatory -TasteIce CreamMolecules of Ice CreamMolecule contact with taste buds of tongueIce Cream
Perceptual Continuum- www.careershodh.com

Criticism to classic approach

  • Researches disagree to the thought that percepts are the same things as proximal stimuli.
  • For Example- Size constancy.-Extend your arm away from your body, and look at the back of your hand. Now, keeping the back of your hand facing you, slowly bring it toward you a few inches, then away from you. Does your hand seem to be changing size as it moves? Probably not, although the size of the hand in the retinal image is most certainly changing our brain knows that the hand’s size is not actually changing.
  • Why? perception involve classification and recognition-
  • Pattern recognition (recognition of a particular object, event and so on, as belonging to a class “shrubs” ) of objects, events and so on.

3. Gestalt Approach of Perception 

Gestalt psychology-concerned with how people apprehend whole objects, concepts or units. Three German psychologists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka proposed new principles of perception called as Gestalt principle. The Basic premise is ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. 

How we interpret stimulus arrays as consisting of objects and backgrounds?

  • Answer 1 –
  • Form perception – cognitive process of segregation of the whole display –
    • Into objects ( figure)
    • And the background (ground).
    • It is called as The Figure-Ground Effect.
The Figure-Ground Effect – www.careershodh.com
  • Answer 2
  • Illusory contours/ subjective contours-
  • Gregory (1972) believed that this relatively complex display is subject  to a simplifying interpretation the perceiver makes without even being aware of making it.
Illusory contourswww.careershodh.com


Gestalt principles of perceptual organization

There are five major principles. They are as follows-

1. The principle of proximity or nearness –

  • We tend to perceive this as a set of rows rather than as a set of columns.
  • This is because the elements within rows are closer than the elements within columns.
  • Here, we group together things that are nearer to each other.
The principle of proximitywww.careershodh.com

2. The principle of similarity –

  • We perceive this display as formed in columns (rather than rows), grouping together those elements that are similar.
The principle of similaritywww.careershodh.com

3. The principle of continuation – 

  • We group together objects whose contours form a continuous straight or curved line.
  • Thus we typically perceive it as two intersecting curved lines and not as other logically possible elements.
The principle of continuationwww.careershodh.com

4. The principle of closure

  • When we look at subjective contours, we perceive this display as a rectangle, mentally filling in the gap to see a closed, complete, whole figure.
The principle of closurewww.careershodh.com

5. The principle of common fate

  • Difficult to illustrate in a static drawing.
  • The idea is that elements that move together will be grouped together, as depicted in Figure
The principle of common fatewww.careershodh.com

6. The law of Prägnanz

  • Koffka, 1935
  • Gestalt principles are subsumed under a more general law,
  • This law states that of all the possible ways of interpreting a display, we will tend to select the organization that yields the simplest and most stable shape or form.

The law of Prägnanzwww.careershodh.com

Factors Affecting Perception

1.Motivation or Need- Stanford (1936) found that hungry participants perceived ambiguous stimuli more as food-related stimuli than non-hungry participants. Changizi and Hall (2001) Showed that your need for thirst could also affect perception.
Bruner & Minturn (1955) illustrated the role of expectation in our perception. Ambiguous figure of ‘13’ in the context of numbers and in the context of alphabets
When you are a fan of a particular IPL Team and the umpire makes a call against your favourite team, you will most probably perceive the umpire as partial. When your perception task is relevant to emotions, it facilitates the performance (Dodd, Vogt, Turkileri, & Notebaert, 2016)
4.Stimulus Characteristics-
Noticed horns as danger – why? Because of evolution we attend few stimulus differently.
5.Experiences- If you mistakenly perceive a rope as a snake in the dark, then your previous experience is guiding your perceptual process. and vice versa
Ethnographic studies suggest there are cultural differences in social understanding, interpretation, and response to behavior and emotion.

Click here to check your understanding of the topic – Perception MCQ test – Perception


Morgan, C. T., King, R. A., Weisz, J. R. & Schopler, J. (2004). Introduction to Psychology. New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill.

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