Perception - Process and Terminology

Process and Terminology

The process of perception begins with an object in the real world, termed the distal stimulus or distal object. By means of light, sound or another physical process, the object stimulates the body's sensory organs. These sensory organs transform the input energy into neural activity—a process called transduction. This raw pattern of neural activity is called the proximal stimulus. These neural signals are transmitted to the brain and processed. The resulting mental recreation of the distal stimulus is the percept. Perception is sometimes described as the process of constructing mental representations of distal stimuli using the information available in proximal stimuli.

An example would be a person looking at a shoe. The shoe itself is the distal stimulus. When light from the shoe enters a person's eye and stimulates their retina, that stimulation is the proximal stimulus. The image of the shoe reconstructed by the brain of the person is the percept. Another example would be a telephone ringing. The ringing of the telephone is the distal stimulus. The sound stimulating a person's auditory receptors is the proximal stimulus, and the brain's interpretation of this as the ringing of a telephone is the percept. The different kinds of sensation such as warmth, sound, and taste are called "sensory modalities".

Psychologist Jerome Bruner has developed a model of perception. According to him people go through the following process to form opinions:.

  1. When a perceiver encounters an unfamiliar target we are opened different informational cues and want to learn more about the target.
  2. In the second step we try to collect more information about the target. Gradually, we encounter some familiar cues which helps us categorize the target.
  3. At this stage the cues become less open and selective. We try to search for more cues that confirm the categorization of the target. At this stage we also actively ignore and even distort cues that violate our initial perceptions. Our perception becomes more selective and we finally paint a consistent picture of the target.

According to Alan Saks and Gary Johns, there are three components to Perception.

  1. The Perceiver, the person who becomes aware about something and comes to a final understanding. There are 3 factors that can influence his or her perceptions: experience, motivational state and finally emotional state. In different motivational or emotional states, the perceiver will react to or perceive something in different ways. Also in different situations he or she might employ a "perceptual defence" where they tend to "see what they want to see".
  2. The Target. This is the person who is being perceived or judged. "Ambiguity or lack of information about a target leads to a greater need for interpretation and addition."
  3. The Situation also greatly influences perceptions because different situations may call for additional information about the target.

Stimuli are not necessarily translated into a percept and rarely does a single stimulus translate into a percept. An ambiguous stimulus may be translated into multiple percepts, experienced randomly, one at a time, in what is called "multistable perception". And the same stimuli, or absence of them, may result in different percepts depending on subject’s culture and previous experiences. Ambiguous figures demonstrate that a single stimulus can result in more than one percept; for example the Rubin vase which can be interpreted either as a vase or as two faces. The percept can bind sensations from multiple senses into a whole. A picture of a talking person on a television screen, for example, is bound to the sound of speech from speakers to form a percept of a talking person. "Percept" is also a term used by Leibniz, Bergson, Deleuze and Guattari to define perception independent from perceivers.

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