Social perception

Social perception

In psychology and cognitive sciences, perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting and organizing sensory information. The word perception comes from the Latin "capere", meaning “to take”, the prefix "per-" meaning “completely”. Methods of studying perception range from essentially biological or psychological approaches through the philosophy of mind or in Merleau-Ponty’s affirmation of perception as the basis of all sciences and knowledge.

Perception is the faculty of acquiring sensory experience. Study of the processes by which humans gather and interpret visual information is largely the province of social psychologists, who have identified several general principles of perception, and also some effects upon it of motivation and attention. [Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, page 488]

Perception refers both to the experience of gaining sensory information about the world of people, things, and events, and to the psychological processes by which this is accomplished. [Concise Encyclopedia of Psychology, Page: 660]

Krech and Crutchfield divide the determinants of perception into two major categories; structural factors and functional factors.

tructural factors

By structural factors we mean those factors driving solely from the nature of the physical stimuli and the natural effects they evoke in the nervous system of the individual. Thus for the Gestalt psychologist, perceptual organizations are determined primarily by the psychological events occurring in the nervous system of the individual in direct reaction to the stimulation by the physical objects. They would insist that those sensory factors which are independent of the perceiving individual’s needs and personality and which force certain organizations in his cognitive field are referred to as “Structural factors in perception”.

Functional factors

The functional factors of perceptual organization, on the other hand are those, which derive primarily from the needs, moods, past experience, and memory of the individual. All functional factors in perception are social in the usual sense of the term. In one experiment, for example, Levine, Chein and Murphy presented a series of ambiguous drawings to hungry college students and found a marked tendency for such drawings to be perceived as food objects – sandwiches, salads, roasts, etc. There was no such effect when the same drawings were shown to students who had just finished eating. The different perceptions of the hungry and not-hungry students could not be due to “structural” factors, since the same pictures were presented to both groups but could be due only to the differences in need or motivation of the members of the two groups.While quantitative laws of how these “functional” factors actually operate in perception are lacking a great deal of experimental work is available that demonstrates their pervasive influence in perception.

Interrelationship between Structural and functional factors

The interaction that is true for most psychological processes is also characteristic of the operation of structural and functional factors in perception. Neither set operates alone; every perception involves both kinds of factors. Although we can experiment with structural factors alone in perception or with functional factors alone, we must realize that this is done only for experimental convenience, that whatever perception is being observed is a function of both sets of factors.

It is important to recognized the interrelationships between these two sets of factors because it is at this point that a necessary rapprochement can be made between the experimental psychologists who tends to analyze man into his component functions and the social psychologist who seeks to treat man as an indivisible entity.


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