It is very important to understand the process of perception before we critically evaluate its benefits, it might provide to an organisational manager. According to Stephen P. Robbins, “Perception can be defined as a process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. Perception is the manner in which a person understands someone or something. It is essentially a psychological activity. It correlates, integrates and comprehends diverse sensations to arrive at a meaningful conclusion. Perception is an active process; constructive in nature which gives meaning to an individual’s environment (different individuals perceive or see the same things differently). The process of perception is a very important activity not only in the life of an individual, our environment but it also includes business environment, numerous stimuli is scattered in the environment, which tries to attract attention. Perception quality depends on the way we organise, process, and interpret the stimuli or the information received by our senses (McKenna, E. 2009). We tend to respond to the perceived stimuli only when we interpret a situation. The process of perception can be explained as
Stimuli play a vital role in perception. The word ‘stimuli’ is the plural form of ‘stimulus’ which means anything that excites or arouses a person. A stimulus is vivid in nature to an extent that it becomes emotionally interesting, concrete and imagery-provoking and is proximate in sensory, temporal and spatial way.( Nisbett & Ross,1980,p.45 cited in Fiske & Taylor,1991).Stimulus is any information before getting registered has to get sensed, and it has to get accomplished by the senses. The stimulus provides a reflex response that is involuntary in nature. We perceive everything as real but reality is a reconstruction of what is there in our environment. Reconstruction includes ignoring some parts of the information and adding some information to it. This addition and ignoring of information depends on a number of factors like education, experience, personality, training of the perceiver and also the purpose for which the information is to be used. The process of perception involves six stages – receiving, selecting, organizing, interpreting, checking, and reacting to stimuli. We receive stimuli through our sense organs – eyes, ears, hands, nose and tongue. Stimuli may be in the form of objects, events, or people. When a person interacts with stimuli, sensation takes place and that marks the beginning of the process of perception.
The next stage is selecting a stimuli and this is done through selective perception. There are numerous stimuli which try to attract attention of an individual. A person cannot attend to all the stimuli and thus, needs to be selective. Selective perception refers to choosing those stimuli that are important and ignoring the others with advantages (Martin and Foley, 1992 cited in McKenna, 2009). Some of the factors that govern selective perception are External physical stimuli, absolute and differential thresholds and the disposition of the perceiver. Of the various factors an individual may come across, only some are important and relevant. The important external factors influencing the selection of stimuli are nature of the stimulus, location, size, shape, colour, intensity, novelty, familiarity, contrast, motion and repetition. The larger the size of an object, more attention is given to it. Repetition leads to familiarity, the more number of times an event is repeated, it attracts more attention. Location or position also helps in attracting attention. For example, an advertisement in the middle of the paper would attract attention. Colour is considered as a device that attracts attention and portrays realism. Colours also have an effect on the individual’s psychological state. Movement captures attention. Novelty or newness and contrast are also means of attracting attention. Every sense receptors needs some level of energy to excite itself, before organising the stimuli. This minimum level of energy is called the absolute threshold, beyond which one does not perceive energy. The differential threshold is the smallest unit of difference which is necessary for two stimuli to be perceived differently. The absolute and differential thresholds are known to fluctuate and it is known as sensory adaptation. There are other internal characteristics that are unique to an individual. For example: personality, motivation, prior opinions, learning. The disposition of the individual can be viewed with reference to preparatory set where in a person because of his/her internal state can notice and register only a particular range of things and ignore the others, the interest in some things attracts attention. Orientation refers to the perceiver’s attitude towards certain set of physical stimuli based on interest, background etc. Motive’s intensity means the stimuli which is given more attention and which appeals to our motives. Our perception becomes selective depending upon our motive. Lastly, familiarity of stimuli that is, the experience of a particular stimuli. Dearborn and Simon (1958, p.140) in their study have mentioned that the executives in an organisation will perceive only those aspects of a situation which are related to the goals of their department. According to them, if exposed to stimulus the subject will perceive only that stimulus which is already within the subject no matter how complex the stimulus is. Cognitive and motivational mechanisms combine with selective process. Thus, selective attention might be a learned response arising through reinforcement or it might be to a part of the stimulus which ignores the remaining part to subject’s goals. They presented some data of selective perception to some industrial executives that support the hypothesis that every executive perceives those stimuli only which related to the goal of their department. In situations where the executives have to view the data keeping in mind the company as a whole, their selection becomes internalised. Dearborn and Simon’s (1958) study produced a belief that managers are selective information processors. But the Selective perception of managers revisited, by Walsh states that a negative relationship was found between domain of experience and perception, showing that functional experience may produce selective imperceptions as well as selective perception.
After having selected the stimuli from the environment, the next step is to organize these in a proper manner to make the same meaningful. Perception is generally much organised. Perception being organised is a very remarkable feature when an individual assumes that the sense receptors are confusing and disorganised (Eyesenck, 1993 cited in McKenna, 2009, p.151). Certain factors which help in making sense of the stimuli we encounter, and transform them into organised perception are ambiguous figures where in we feel the need of creating a whole image, figure background, Gestalt laws of organisation refers to the set of rules and laws that govern the organisation of perception. For example: area, proximity refers to the law of proximity , which states that things that are close together in space or time are generally perceived as an organised group, similarity, continuation, common fate and closure. Constancy is another factor, through stability and constancy people organise their environment. Constancy refers to those situations where we perceive objects as stable although there are alterations in the stimuli reaching our sensory organs. There are some examples of perceptual constancies like size, shape that is to maintain a constant shape although the retinal image has changed. This helps in keeping the perception in an orderly manner. Light and person are also examples of perceptual constancy. Illusions acts as another factor, what we generally see is sometimes not similar to what we know is true. These manifestations are called illusions. An illusion can also be defined as perceptual error. There is illusion of movement that arises from stationary stimuli. The last factor is application of the perceptual organisation. Gestalt’s theory that ‘the whole is more than some of its parts’ is applied in the illustration of perceptual organisation. Repetition also helps in organising perception.
The next step after the organization of the stimuli is interpretation. It is the process of assigning meaning to the stimuli received and organized. Perceptual interpretation occurs only when a stimulus is related to a person’s thought process, ideas or experiences of the world; this is the cognitive context which is based on one’s life experiences. It is the main determinant of perception. An individual’s perception depends on the way we perceive other people’s personal characteristics. Cues like the posture of the person, gestures, facial expression; body language, voice modulation, and orientation help to perceive a person’s behaviour in a social setting. The next stage in the process of perception is that the perceiver has to check whether the interpretation made by him is correct or not. Innumerable research has shown that people are biased in their judgements and often conclude wrong things underlying the action of others. These are a result of cognitive shortcuts taken by a person as a result of past experiences that are stored in the long -term memory which affects decisions about situation and people (Klimoski and Donahue, 2001 cited in Arnold, et al., 2005). For example, when a manager notices a new poor performer, a ‘poor performer schema’ gets automatically triggered and the manager might not behave with the employee in a proper way. These cognitive shortcuts can create problems, especially while assessing people at work. These decisions are generally based on evidences; it should be known how managers can use the evidences in a more effective manner. The various biases which come into play while assessing people in an organisation are halo and horns, primacy and recency effect , attribution biases, stereotypes, projection effect, contact history.
Halo and horn effect occur when an individual assess or perceives another person as good or bad. This favourable (halo) or unfavourable (horns) evaluation is done on the basis of past experiences or prior information. For example: in an interview the interviewer may perceive that in the interviewee there might be some desirable traits similar to one of his/her own, thus the interviewer attends more closely to the information during the interview to confirm his initial view but the information disconfirms it. It is a biased system. It has been stated (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957 cited in Mckenna, 2009) that the attitude towards other individuals can be determined by evaluating any of the three dimensions: activity that is active versus passive; strength that is strong versus weak and evaluative that is good versus bad. Out of these the third is most effective.
Primacy and Recency effects refers to the tendency where in information comes early or late and which dominates our memory and decision- making. For example: a manager must keep in mind the performance of the employee and not react when he/ she overhears that the employee misbehaved with the customer just before an appraisal meeting.
Stereotyping is another form of bias that results from our tendency of generalising belief about the characteristics of groups, attributes and behaviour that belongs typically to that group (Hilton and Von Hippel, 1996 cited in McKenna, 2009). Individuals hold a preset image of other people, based on their category of membership to the group. These categories become the tools for perceiving others (Taylor and Ilgen, 1981 cited in Arnold, et.al., 2005). Due to the stereotyped image an individual relies on, might ignore some important information concerning the individual. It is not necessary that stereotypes only produce negative image, it can also be positive. Stereotypes effect our judgement of a person’s competence or suitability for a particular role. Stereotypic thinking serves many purposes that involve cognitive and motivational processes. Stereotyping generally emerges in various situations depending on the particular function it has to serve. Motivation has an effect on stereotyping depending on the increased likelihood towards cognitive processes (Spencer and Fein, 1993 cited in Hilton, J and Hippel, 1996). Stereotypes are also based on real group differences, they are also based on characteristics of a person like race, gender etc. For example: think manager think male, a research was conducted with the purpose of knowing the relationship between sex role stereotype and apt management characteristics in two Asian countries whose results were to be compared with that found by Schein and Mueller (1992) in Europe. The results revealed that people think that ‘think manager- think male’ is a global phenomenon and is most common among men.
Attribution biases also take place when people tend to explain their own and other people’s behaviour. It is known that an individual is more aware of situational factors that affect their own behaviour than observers. During an assessment an observer will perceive an assessee’s behaviour as personality rather than circumstances (Herriot, 1989b cited in Arnold, et al., 2005). For example: managers are more prone to attribute a poor performance of an employee as lack of motivation rather than their own failure to provide developmental opportunities. In-group and out- group bias is ‘ultimate attribution bias’. This kind of bias may explain incidences of discrimination.
Projection effect is when an individual tends to attribute their own characteristics to other people. For example: we tend to blame others for our own disturbed state of mind.
Self- Fulfilling Prophecy is also known as Pygmalion effect. Here the person’s expectation of another (target) have an influence on or is transferred to the subject in such a way that the subject alters his or her behaviour in conformity to the expectations. Pygmalion effect models are developed by researchers (McnNatt, 2000), these models illustrates how manager’s behaviour results in self expectancy of subordinates, thus motivates employees which in turn leads to increased performance.
Attribution theory “is proposed to develop explanations of how we judge people differently depending upon the meaning we attribute to given behaviour” (Kelley, 1971 cited in McKenna 2009). From this theory one tries to understand whether the person’s behaviour is caused due to internal or external factors. Internal factors can be personally controlled but external factors are controlled by the situation faced by an individual. Attribution as a concept is subjected to many detailed considerations, which amounts to judging actions of people in a situational context (Kelley, 1967 cited in McKenna, 2009). This is conditioned by three attributes: consensus in behavior, consistency in behavior, distinctiveness in behavior. Self-serving bias is an attribution theory’s error, this is a tendency for individuals to attribute their own success to internal factors and place blame for failures on external factors. Their approach is self-serving.
After the stimuli have been interpreted it needs to be stored and retained. Long- term memory is the permanent store of information, while the working memory is a form of a mental workspace; it is used to maintain information while an action is being carried out. Long term memory stores all events, ideas, people, emotional states etc.
As the last step, the perceiver has to react to what he has perceived about someone or something. The reaction will be positive if the perception is favourable and it will be negative if the perception is unfavourable. The judgement might be effected by availability bias that is used to evaluate the frequency of an event on the basis of how frequently associations come into notice (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973 cited in Fiske and Taylor, 1991). Whatever a person has perceived gets stored in their long- term memory and becomes a basis of their behaviour thus we can say that perception influences behaviour.
Managers make decisions based on how they perceive, that is the way they understand events, people, and things around them. Yet there have been situations where individual’s perceptions were clearly erroneous and the events, people and things around them were not what they appeared to be. More accurate perceptions are a base for proper decision making; some managers may argue that problems resulting from inaccurate perceptions are infrequent and often minor. Since most managers strive to be better than their peers, they must seek to understand the perceptual process better in order to develop the skill to perceive events and people more accurately and thus have a better base for making decisions. Perception can help the managers to make the right decision of employee’s effort. An individual’s effort is subjected to perceptual distortion and bias. Hence if a manager has good perception then he can make correct decisions regarding job design that is he can help to recruit the best fit, he will provide safe solutions for problems, and will even initiate to take risks. Who gets selected and rejected depends upon the perception of the interviewer. Perceptual biases as mentioned above can effect an interviewer’s judgement, thus knowledge about perception would help the manager make effective judgement based on expectations. An employee is evaluated on the basis of perception, if a manager perceives that an employee is performing well an appraisal can be awarded. An individual’s perception of relevance determines their focus in perceptual field. Narrowing the field of view and seeing what is relevant is called “spotlight perception” or tunnel vision. Broadening, the field of view to encompass other aspects in a situation can be called as “floodlight perception”. To obtain accurate perceptions, managers must use both spotlight and floodlight. A person might perceive things to be relevant but must recognize that our world may cause us to filter out aspects of a situation others may perceive to be highly relevant. During this processing, a manager can add or reduce some available sensory data, and narrowly or broadly attend to the situation or event. Thus, one can perceive their environment selectively. To avoid the many problems associated with “percept” distortions, managers must consciously withhold and evaluative judgments. A functional point of view requires the manager to make attributive judgments until the pattern of relationships is clear. Managers should avoid taking sides until all the information from others is in, they must keep in mind that the information received may be distorted leading to biases. For effective decisions a manager must not only perceive but also understand other people. The process by which one perceives people and the causes for their behaviour is called “attribution”. Individuals attribute a person’s behaviour to some cause or causes. Attribution permits one to perceive people and their behaviours as structured, stable and meaningful.
Effective managers should be aware of perceptual difficulties and have a better view of reality by keeping in mind about biases, constructed perceptions to meet the needs and individual’s assumption(s)/belief(s) that lead to behaviour that will be congruent with the perception.
The human brain is bombarded by massive amounts of stimuli which get gathered by our senses, only some of which can be processed. Individuals seem to look forward to events or inputs which conform to their personal characteristics, personality and life experiences. All perception occurs in a rich, dynamic, ongoing context, and a thorough understanding of the perceptual process demands that we understand the roles of expectations, assumptions, and hypotheses, which taken together, constitute what may be called a person’s assumptive world( Fall, 2003). Based on this assumptive world, the individual selects those sensory inputs from the immediate environment which he or she has found to be useful from past experiences. Thus would like to conclude by stating that understanding of the process of perception is very essential for an organisational manager, as perception affects the awareness of problems and also interpretation of data and judgement. Thus knowledge of perception helps a manager in interviews, decision- making, understanding of self-fulfilling prophecies of performance, performance evaluations, employee effort, employee loyalty and job satisfaction, leading to provide the employee with a more stimulant and developmental environment.