What is Perception? Definitions, Types, Importance, Process

What is Perception?

Perception is a process of interpretation of stimuli perceived through the sensory organs of individuals.

Before defining perception, let us first understand the meaning of the stimulus. A stimulus is a thing or an event that arouses a specific functional reaction in a human being. Humans perceive the stimulus through the senses of touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell. Perception is a process of interpretation of stimuli perceived through the sensory organs of individuals.

Perception Definition

In other words, perception helps people organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. Information from the environment is selected, received, organized, and interpreted to make meaningful inferences that affect human behavior and attitudes.

Types of Perception

The meaningful inferences results in decisions and actions. Perception can be divided into two types; visual perception and auditory perception.

Visual Perception

Visual perception is a process through which the naked eye detects light, depth, etc. around a stimulus and interprets it. Vision has a specific sensory system, the visual system. The objects and events in the human surroundings act as distal stimuli.

In visual perception, an individual initially receives information about the distal stimulus through the visual system. After this, the cognitive process starts where the individual processes information about the stimulus. The interpretation of information and its registration by the visual system forms the proximal stimulus.

The figure illustrates the process of visual perception:

The same stimulus may be perceived differently by different individuals. For example: Consider the two lines (A) and (B) as depicted in Figure and visualize which of these two lines is longer:

At first, most people perceive the vertical line B as longer although both lines are equal in length (3.5 cm). The two lines appear to have different lengths owing to the placement of the arrows, inwards in Line A while outwards in Line B. However, there are still some people who are able to make out at the first glance that both lines actually have the same length. Therefore, visual perception may vary among individuals.

Auditory Perception

Auditory perception is the process by which the brain interprets what an individual hears. Sounds around an individual, exist in the form of vibrations that travel through the air (medium). The ears detect these sound vibrations and convert them into nerve impulses.

These impulses are directed to the brain where they are interpreted. The brain interprets the incoming noise into something useful and comprehensible. It also discriminates against the various sounds in an individual’s environment, referred to as auditory discrimination.

Auditory discrimination is the process whereby an individual differentiates between sounds around him or her. For example, in a music concert, an individual is able to distinguish the sound of guitars from those of the piano and so on.

The subsequent sections illustrate the importance of perception, the perception process, perceptual selectivity, and the various factors that influence perception.

SOBC Model

Perception is a cognitive process, which involves the interpretation of stimuli in the environment and comprehending their meaning. Perception guides human behavior in general. The importance of perception can be explained with the help of the SOBC (Stimulus-OrganismBehaviour-Consequence) Model of organizational behavior given by Fred Luthans.

The SOBC model helps to understand, predict, and control organizational behavior on the basis of managing the contingent environment.

Elements of SOBC Model

Let us briefly discuss the elements of the SOBC model in the following section:


An organism perceives a stimulus from the environment. A stimulus potentially influences behaviour. There are two types of stimuli:

  • Overt Stimuli: These are signals in the environment that are observable. For example, other individuals, and objects in the environment are overt stimuli.

  • Covert Stimuli: These are signals in the environment that are not consciously observed. For example, cold weather stimulating an individual to light a fire is a covert stimulus.


The organism uses its senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) to perceive the stimulus.


The sensory data is interpreted in the human brain which marks the human behavior towards the stimulus. The response to a stimulus is a particular instance of behavior.

The behavior can be of the following types:

  • Overt behavior: It is an open and observable behavior.
  • Covert behavior: It is a hidden, concealed, or secretive behavior.

For example, when you play chess with your friend, the act of moving a piece in response to your friend’s move is overt behavior. However, thinking and analyzing what goes in your mind before making the move is covert behavior.


All types of behaviors result in an outcome. These outcomes can be of two types based on the effect they produce on an individual:

  • Positive Consequence: A positive consequence results in satisfaction and a desire to repeat the behavior. For example, getting recognition for efficiency motivates an employee to continue to deliver good work.

  • Negative Consequence: A negative consequence results in dissatisfaction and a desire to not repeat the behavior. For example, being punished for disturbing the class discourages a student from doing so in the future.

The figure shows the SOBC model of organizational behavior:

The SOBC model, when applied to organizations implies that the events, individuals, teams, etc. act as stimuli for the employee which determines his behavior and the organizational behavior on the whole.

The behavior of each individual in the organization has a certain consequence which could be positive or negative depending on his or her experience.

Perception Process

The process of perception is multifaceted and includes several sub-processes. These sub-processes are the cognitive processes occurring within an individual and can be classified into four parts as depicted in Figure:


The process of perception begins when an individual is confronted with a stimulus. For example, personal interaction with the manager works as a stimulus for employees to work more efficiently.


The stimulus is perceived by individuals using their sensory organs. This is referred to as the registration of stimulus. In the above example, the employee registers the advice of his manager using his ears.


Interpretation involves attaching a certain meaning to the registered stimulus. An individual’s attitude, personality, values, and beliefs play a major role in interpreting a stimulus. In the above example, the employee interprets the advice of his manager by attaching some meaning to it.


The final sub-process is the resultant behavior of an individual after interpreting a stimulus. The response may be overt in nature such as an action, or it may be covert in nature such as a change in attitude.

Let us understand the process of perception with the help of Rubin’s vase (shown in Figure ), a well-known object for an optical illusion.

At first, the image stimulates the individual to focus on it while blocking the rest of the surroundings. Then, the individual registers the image using his vision. The brain interprets the image which varies between individuals.

Some individuals organize the dark parts of the image as the foreground, and the light parts as the background while some interpret the image as vice-versa. Depending on the interpretation, the result varies for individuals.

Thus, some individuals may see a vase while others may see two faces in the image. Most individuals are able to see both, but only one at a time.

Perceptual Selectivity

An individual in an organization is exposed to various stimuli such as the ringing phone, tapping of keys on a computer keyboard, the sound of other employees chatting, and other different sounds, etc. However, the individual’s brain only responds to the stimuli that he is interested in.

How does the individual decide which stimulus to respond to and which ones to ignore? The answer lies in perceptual selectivity.

Perceptual selectivity refers to the tendency of an individual to select certain objects in the environment and disregard others. Without the ability to select among different stimuli, an individual cannot interpret the information required to initiate behavior.

Perceptual selectivity is mainly governed by two aspects.

  • An individual’s senses are activated by certain stimuli in the environment while others are unnoticed by human senses. For example, the light from a bulb might not catch the attention of an individual, but if a torch light is flashed directly over him or her, the individual would blink his or her eyes.

  • The second point is concerned with individuals’ ability to adapt to certain stimuli to which they are constantly exposed referred to as sensory adaptation. For example, an individual who has just shifted near the railway line will get disturbed by the constant noise of passing trains.

    On the other hand, an individual who has been living there for a long might not be bothered by the noise of passing trains. Perceptual selectivity is affected by a number of factors which can be classified as follows:

    • External factors: External factors affect the individual’s perceptual selectivity by accentuating the stimuli.

      These can be further classified as follows:

      • Intensity: Intensity accentuates the stimuli making them more noticeable. For example, a loud noise is more noticeable.

      • Size: The larger the object, the more noticeable it is. For example, a full-page advertisement in a newspaper catches more attention.

      • Contrast: The stimulus is made more noticeable in contrast with its background. For example, bold text is more noticeable in a document.

      • Repetition: The more a stimulus is repeated, the more noticeable it becomes. For example, repetitive alarms help to wake people up in the mornings.

      • Motion: A moving object gains more attention than one which is static. For example, a moving car is more noticeable over the static trees in its background.

      • Status: The status of the people also influences the perception of an individual. For example, employees are able to easily remember the names of the Heads of the Department more than their co-workers.

    • Internal factors: These factors are based on the psychological makeup of an individual. These can be further classified as follows:

      • Personality: The personality of an individual affects the way they perceive things. Generally, optimistic people perceive things more favorably than pessimistic individuals.

      • Learning and experience: Learning and experience affect what an individual expects from the stimuli. This is dependent on the cognitive awareness of an individual. Managers delegate responsibilities to employees based on their past performances.

      • Motivation: Individuals generally prefer to perceive things that would satisfy their needs and desires. Therefore, motivation influences selectivity. An employee tends to recall the praise rather than the negative feedback provided by the manager

Factors Influencing Perception

Certain factors shape or distort the process of perception in individuals. These factors can be broadly categorized as depicted below:

Let us discuss the factors influencing perception in detail in the following section:


When an individual perceives stimuli and attempts to interpret them, the interpretation is heavily influenced by the individual’s personal characteristics. These characteristics include an individual’s attitudes, personality, motives, interests, past experiences, and expectations.

For example, if an individual expects youngsters to be lazy, and policemen to be authoritative, he or she would perceive them as such without paying heed to their actual traits.


The characteristics of the stimuli also affect how an individual perceives them. For example, vocal employees are more likely to be noticed in a team meeting than non-vocal employees. Uniqueness, motion, sound, size, and other characteristics of a target affect the way in which it is perceived by individuals.

This is because individuals don’t observe targets (stimuli) in isolation. The relationship of a target to its background influences perception. Moreover, individuals tend to group together persons, objects, or events that are similar to each other.

The more similarity between the targets, the more an individual tends to perceive them as a collective group. For example, individuals tend to perceive people belonging to a nation as alike in more than one category, irrespective of their individual characteristics being clearly distinguishable from one another.


The situation or context related to the stimuli also affects its perception. The time or location, at which an individual sees an object or event, influences the attention he or she gives to the object or event.

Similarly, light, heat, background, and a number of other situational factors affect the perception of an object or event.

For example, an individual might not notice a particular dancer in a group performance. However, the same individual might notice the same dancer in a solo performance. Neither the perceiver nor the object changed, but the situation is very different each time.

Internal factors affecting perception:

Sensory Limits and Thresholds

The human sensory organs have nerves, which respond to different forms of energy they receive in different ways. For instance, the eyes receive light rays and convert them into electrical energy. The electrical energy is transmitted to the brain creating the sensation of vision leading to perception.

Each sense receptor needs a minimum level of energy for perception to take place. This level is called the absolute threshold, which refers to the point below which sensory organs do not perceive energy.

The differential threshold is the minimum amount by which two-like stimuli should differ in order to be perceived as distinct. Therefore, sensory limits and differential thresholds affect the perception process.

Psychological Factors

Psychological factors include personality traits, past experiences, learning, and motivation that affect an individual’s perceptual process considerably. These factors increase an individual’s sensitivity to the stimuli which he or she considers relevant.

Psychological factors determine why individuals select and respond to a particular stimulus or situation over others. Objects, events, etc. compatible with an individual’s learning, interest, needs, attitude, and personality are likely to gain more attention over others. For example, while traveling, people conversing over a topic that interests a person is surely going to gain his or her attention. This happens because of an individual’s strong association with a particular thing, or event.

Similarly, an individual’s past experiences and learning affect the perception process considerably. Individuals are often able to perceive things subjectively. For example, on hearing a droning sound, individuals infer that there is an airplane up in the sky. However, individuals may commit errors in their perception of things based on learning and experience.

Managerial Implications of Perception

An individual’s behavior depends on the perception of things that motivate him or her. The outcomes of an event or object encourage an individual to indulge in a certain type of behavior. There are various managerial implications of perception in an organization.

Some of the more common managerial implications of perception are as follows:

Employee Selection and Recruitment

The selection of individuals as employees in an organization widely depends on the perception of the interviewer. The interviewer may have developed certain perceptions over time for specific races, genders, etc.

The interviewer may be biased toward people from a certain community, gender, or region. Such dispositions may lead to favorable or unfavorable attitudes toward the applicants. For example, an interviewer may favor an applicant from his institute and recruit him or her. Therefore, perception may affect the selection process in an organization.

Employee Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisal is another area that is affected by the perception of managers about their employees. The process of performance appraisal is carried out to judge the work of employees in an organization annually or bi-annually.

The objective of the performance appraisal is to determine the incentive, promotion, or training needs of an employee. However, the process of performance appraisal is inherently biased and susceptible to perceptual distortion.

Here are a few ways in which perception affects the process of performance appraisal in organizations:

Comparing Employees

Comparison between employees in a team may affect the appraisal process in an organization. For example, three out of five employees under a manager have performed better than the other two.

The appraisal of the two employees is based on the performance of the other three and not on the improvement shown by the two from the previous year. In such a case, the performance appraisal of the two employees was based on the perception formed due to comparison.

Favouring Employees

A manager who holds a favorable impression of a certain employee of his or her team may overlook incidences of poor performance shown by the employee. The manager may appraise him on the basis of the perceptions he has about the employee.

For example, a manager rates an employee, belonging to his native place, as good in spite of his frequent failures and underperformance.

Stereotyping and Halo Effect

Stereotyping refers to the process of judging objects, people, etc. based on popular impressions about them with little heed to reality. For example, ‘women are bad drivers’ is a stereotype where it is wrongly assumed that no woman can drive.

On the other hand, the Halo effect refers to the process of judging an individual, event, or object based on a single trait or characteristic such as sociability, intelligence, or appearance. Stereotyping and Halo effect can deeply influence the judgment of managers about their subordinates during performance appraisals.

Meeting Initial Expectations

Managers tend to judge their subordinates based on the extent to which the employees have met the initial expectations of the managers. For example, a bank manager had assumed his employee to sell 200 credit cards over the year.

The employee was able to sell 170, apart from being regular and efficient at work. The manager may not give him due credit only because his initial expectation from the employee was not met with.

Forming a Similar-to-me Effect

Individuals tend to form favorable notions of people who are believed to be similar to themselves in one way or another other such as work habits, values, beliefs, demographics, etc. This is called the similar-to-me effect. Managers may tend to favor employees whom they perceive as similar.

Forming a Projection Bias

Projection bias is a process where individuals perceive that other individuals have similar behavior, values, or beliefs as them. For example, if a manager is dedicated to his job, he may perceive that all the other employees are committed to their jobs as well.

Similarly, an employee quitting his job may perceive that others are also unsatisfied with their jobs. Projection bias is a form of perceptual error an individual tends to make. It can affect the judgemental process of an individual about other individuals. Managers often conduct employee performance appraisals with a projection bias.

Judging Based on Primacy Effect

People tend to judge future behavior based on their first impression of a person, object, or event. This is referred to as the Primacy effect. The primacy effect is also a perceptual error where people quickly form opinions about others based on the first information they perceive from others. Managers may tend to judge employees based on the Primacy effect ignoring their actual performances.

Judging Based on Recency Effect

When a certain time lapse occurs between the first impression and the recent impression of a person, the Recency effect may be observed. The most recent impression of an individual is so strong that it completely changes the perception other individuals have of him or her from the first impression.

It may affect the performance appraisal of an employee in an organization. For example, a manager judges the performance of an employee based on the previous year’s performance (not meeting expectations) which conflicts with his recent performance (successful completion of work).

Managing the Perception Process

Perception management at the workplace holds increasing importance as organizations worldwide are becoming more employee-oriented.

With regular feedback, peer reviews, performance appraisals rewards, recognition, etc. employees and managers need to manage the perception process to avoid perceptual errors in their judgment of each other.

The perception process is important as it influences individual behavior. Individuals need to be aware of the perceptual distortion coming their way of judging other individuals in the organization to be able to manage the perception process.

Moreover, managers realize that perceptual differences may exist in an organization that may affect employee collaboration in the future. Therefore, it becomes imperative that employees and managers are conscious of managing the perceptual process that eventually determines their attitudes and behavior.

Some of the ways to manage the perception process are discussed in the following section.

Individuals Should Have High Levels of Self-awareness

Individuals should be aware that perceptual errors such as the primacy effect, recency effect, or initial expectations can create hindrances in how they perceive other individuals.

To manage the perception process, an individual should be aware of when and how he or she is inappropriately distorting a situation because of perceptual errors.

Individuals Should Support Their Perception Through Information From Different Sources

It is normal for humans to form perceptions of the people, objects, or events around them. However, they should attempt to confirm personal impressions before drawing a conclusion.

An individual should seek to minimize the influence of personal perception by taking the views of all the people around him. The insights gained through such information should decide the attitudes and behavior toward the person, object, or event.

Individuals Should Be Empathetic

Individuals should restrain from drawing conclusions about other people, objects, or events without analyzing the situation appropriately. They should attempt to understand the point of view of the target so as to avoid forming notions on the basis of how others perceive it.

Individuals Should Rise Above Personal Impressions

A particular experience may develop personal impressions in the minds of individuals about the other person, object, or event. However, individuals should attempt to perceive the target without getting affected by personal impressions. Similarly, individuals should avoid influencing the perception of others based on their personal impressions of a person, object, or event.

Individuals Should Avoid Common Perceptual Distortions

Perceptual distortions are incorrect or abnormal interpretations of a perceptual experience. Perceptual distortions may create biases in the minds of individuals and interference with a normal perceptual process.

These distortions include judging other individuals, objects, or events on the basis of stereotyping and halo effects.

Individuals Should Avoid Inappropriate Attributions

Individuals have a tendency to contemplate why an event happened in a particular way, for instance, reasoning as to why people behaved the way they did.

To avoid errors of perception, individuals should be able to establish the actual reason behind a particular event, incident, or behavior.

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