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SECTION A: - Read & Complete Q&A


You are beginning a course of study whose main objective is to increase your understanding of human behavior, or, more correctly, to give you insight into the multiplicity of factors (variables) which influence human behavior. 

The study of human behavior is challenging for a variety of reasons.


Firstly, it is difficult for us to study ourselves as human beings, which is what we will be attempting to do. How can we be objective about ourselves? Can we accept notions about ourselves which may be at odds with our religious beliefs, our cultural beliefs and so forth ? Secondly, a large number of the factors which appear to affect behavior are difficult to see, to measure and so forth. For example, how can I be sure that what I perceive is also what my friend, my neighbor, my family, also perceive. I cannot see into anyone’s’ mind, other than my own! I rely on what other people tell me about what is in their minds. Their thoughts are hidden, I can only infer them from their external behaviors or what they say and so on. Remember the old maxim actions speak louder than words !!


Therefore, for example, if I am trying to decide whether a new product will sell or not, I need more than to have a number of people tell me they will buy the product. I need some way of assessing their behavior when I put a limited number of the product onto the market (testing session) and so on. Thirdly, even when a person feels that he/she fully understands their own behavior, he/she could be incorrect as not everything about ourselves is conscious to us. For example, we cannot accept as true everything any of us might believe about ourselves.​

Finally, there is no one method of research which will give full insight into a person’s behavior. Social scientists, therefore, use a variety of methods when researching a particular situation.

What do we mean by the term Behavioral Science?

‘Behavioral sciences is the collective term given to a number of disciplines which focus on the study of the behavior of humans.’

To understand this definition we need to examine what the author means by both ‘collective term’ , and ‘disciplines’. By using the word ‘collective’ the author is drawing attention to the fact that ‘Behavioral Science’ is the study of human behavior from a number of different subject (discipline) areas. It also highlights that one subject on its own will not give a good holistic understanding of behavior. For example, if I attempt to explain a person’s behavior from a geographical of view, that is, that in the 1990s it is to be expected that this person will, if living in Ireland, read a newspaper at least once a week, I will be ignoring a number of social, psychological and economic variables which might also be deciding factors as to whether this particular person does or does not read a newspaper at least once a week, and also which newspaper is read.

The disciplines which contribute to an understanding of human behavior are generally listed as follows:










Perhaps one could add to this list. You might be able to think of a discipline which is not included. That has developed in the culuture of today.

We will now take a brief look at how each of these disciplines helps our \ understanding of human behavior.

PSYCHOLOGY defined as the science that seeks to measure, explain, and sometimes change the behavior of humans and other animals. Psychologists primarily attempt to understand the behavior of individuals. By that we mean that the level of analysis is the individual person (not a group). Psychology gives us insight into how an individual:








and so forth...


SOCIOLOGY defined as the study of people in relation to their fellow human beings. Sociologists have provided great insight into the collective behavior of people in groups. For example, this discipline has shown us the influence of power positions within groups; how conflict arises and is resolved within groups ; the influence of culture and so forth. The level of analysis is the GROUP. A group of people will assume an identity that is different from the aggregate of the individuals it comprises. Think of the benefits you derive as a member of a family group. For example, a name, social status, history, location, values, ….

POLITICS defined as the study of behavior of individuals and groups within a political environment. Specific topics studied by political scientists have implication for understanding the behavior of individuals and groups within organizations, for example, the manipulation of power for individual or group self interests. This manipulation will be evident in the culture of the group / organization.


ECONOMICS  defined as the study of allocation of scarce resources to unlimited wants. The main topics of study are those of production, exchange, and consumption of goods and services. ‘Work’ can be viewed as an economic activity in that , in exchange for labor, individuals receive necessary income with which to support themselves and their families. The level of income is a function of several factors such as education, ambition, social class among others. The level of income has an implication for behavior and life-style.

HISTORY defined as ‘the study of past events’, so that we might learn from past successes and failures... We all use our past experiences to help us interpret the present. We study history to do the same but on a larger scale. We attempt to extol historical figures who have made major contributions to helping us understand ourselves. Through looking into ‘history’ we can recognize patterns of behavior which might not be obvious to us in present situations...

LAW It is easy to see how the law affects our behavior. Just think of some of the many ‘employment laws’ and the constraints they impose on behavior in the work-place ! For example, the Employment Equality Act, or the Unfair Dismissal Act, or the Minimum Wages Act ! Each of these has clear implications for the way people are managed, therefore they influence the behavior of employers / managers and employees.

PHILOSOPHY / ART & MUSIC: Think about each of these and how it might have given insight into human behavior or the definition of what it is to be ‘human’. Philosophy can be used to refer to a body of knowledge which is studied in universities, but in a broader sense it can be used to refer to ‘a philosophy of life’ underpinning whole civilizations. For example, a Christian philosophy underpins all western societies in that social norms (e.g. monogamy) tend to reflect Christianity. That may be changing slowly and may be replaced by a more secular philosophy. In eastern societies the way of life tends to be underpinned by non-christian beliefs, for example, Hinduism,or Buddhism, or Islam, or Jewism or Taoism ... Art & Music have also a history behind them. We see them reflecting a particular culture, or society or historical period... We also know that music in particular, can have a major influence on the behavior of whole groups of people and individuals. This influence may be ‘age’ related, or ‘social class’ related, or ‘religion’ related and so forth. It would be an easy exercise for you to think up examples to illustrate each of these categories, and I’m sure that you could think up many more !

RELIGION: consider the influence that religion has on human behavior ? Every major civilization is underpinned by a religion, for example, in China and Japan one find that Taoism and Buddhism have a major influence on the day-to-day life of people, in India the influence is 10 largely through Hinduism and Islam. In the West our institutions such as Law, and Marriage, reflect a Christian influence. Older civilizations, such as the native American Indians also had a system of beliefs which was reflected in their lives, and so on. Several psychologists have drawn attention to the need that humans appear to have for transcendent ‘needs’, that is, as humans even when our physical and emotional needs appear to be satisfied we quite often ‘want’ more, and we seek it in religion or spirituality.





This might look like an easy question to answer.

You might reply something like;

We can look at what people do, or, make assumptions about the way a person looks, or, by the way a person behaves in a pub, or at a wedding or a funeral…

From the point of view of this course it is more complicated as we need to acknowledge that psychologists take a scientific approach to answering this question. Furthermore, we need to say what we mean by ‘scientific’ approach. We will begin by examining this last point, that is, what is meant by a scientific approach to the understanding of human behavior?


A science is a body of knowledge which has been gathered according to certain rules.

By following the rules scientists measure events (behaviors), and then go on to describe, explain, and sometimes to make predictions on the basis of what has been measured and described. When it comes to human behavior we are much better at describing behavior than we are at explaining it. Explaining means being able to identify the cause of the behavior. And when it comes to prediction we are not yet great at that primarily because people are not that easily understood, and because the interpretation we give to a certain behavior will depend on the theory we are using to make the interpretation. And being able to predict a behavior means that we have no doubt about the cause and the circumstances within which the behavior will occur.

If we take for example the question of heart disease, or lung cancer. We have information which leads us to associate certain factors with heart disease, for example, lack of exercise. However, we cannot predict with certainty that a person named X will get coronary heart disease because he/she does not get enough exercise. All we can say is that the lack of exercise increases the probability of getting heart disease. We all know or have heard of person X who lives into their 80’s , dies a natural death in spite of having smoked 40 cigarettes a day for sixty years! Or the person who gets lung cancer and may never have smoked at all. In these cases we can explain the lack of exercise or smoking is implicated in disease and will increase the probability of disease, but we cannot predict that specific persons A or B will get the disease.


Having said all that , how do we study human behavior? In a variety of ways. For example, by simple observation. I want to know whether my son is doing his homework. If I observe him sitting down with his schoolbooks opened, and he having all the appearance of studying, then I have observed that he is doing his homework. If I want to get an idea of how many people enter a particular shop 13 on a particular day then I can observe, either by standing outside the shop and counting everyone as they enter, or by placing a video camera in a strategic position so that it gets a view of everyone entering the shop, or I could choose to observe a sample of people at certain times of the day and make predictions from the sample. These are simple examples of where observation can give us immediate information about behavior. There are some situations where the use of observation is more problematic, for example, if I want to know what is going on in my son’s classroom at school I might suggest to the headmaster that he should sit-in on a particular class to observe what is happening. He might oblige, having firstly obtained the agreement of the teacher of the class. He sits in, makes his observations and gives me his findings. He might tell me that the class are very well behaved, my son asked several intelligent questions, the teacher appeared to have a good relationship with the class and so on. What he is not telling me is that, by the very fact that he was sitting in the class as an observer the behavior in the class was altered. Therefore, what he observed was true only of the particular situation. I could not make any general conclusions on the basis of this observation. A second way I might use to get information on human behavior is by means of a survey. This method involves using questionnaires and personal interviews. This method is used extensively in market research.


RECAP: so far we have examined what the term Behavioral Science means in terms of understanding human behavior. We saw that it is a discipline (subject) which includes the study of behavior from the viewpoint of several disciplines or subjects. That is, to understand human behavior one has to bring together the findings and methods of Psychology, Sociology, Politics, Economics, History, Law, Philosophy and Art / Music.

We then went on to look briefly at the methods which are used to study human behavior. This particular topic of methods, could take up a whole course in itself so we have only glanced at it sufficiently to give you a feel for it.*


Week One Assignment listed in your Google Classroom.

To show you have read sections A & B - Complete the Questions in the Assignment there.










In this section we are going to examine the different perspectives used in interpreting behavior. You may well be surprised to find that understanding behavior is dependent on the particular view point taken, in other words, how any behavior is interpreted will depend on the theory used to explain it. For example, a behaviorist (more on this in later pages) would conclude that, for example, smoking is encouraged by the approval of significant people in one’s life, and it persists because of this continuing approval (before it becomes an addiction ), whereas a Freudian might conclude that smoking is a behavior which points to the person having not coped adequately with a particular conflict early in life. The former concludes that behavior will be repeated when it is approved, whereas the latter places weight on experiences in early life as having influences on how the person behaves in later life. We will look at each of the different perspectives in turn, beginning with the biological perspective. From this perspective psychologists primarily study the brain and nervous system with a view to understanding how these bodily structures influence behavior. We act in the world using our bodies . By that I mean we move, walk, see, taste, hear, touch and smell with our sensory systems. We think and reason about the world using our senses, which are mediated through the body, through the nervous system and neuromuscular equipment.

This means that psychology cannot be disentangled from biology. The study of the brain, nervous system and hormones helps with an understanding of how we learn about the world, what we want in and from the world, and why we act in the ways that we do. For example, we know that the sensory system (sight, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling) is the primary means by which we receive information about the world, from birth. Normal full-term newborns enter the world with all sensory systems functioning, but not all at the same level of maturity. Make a loud noise and infants only minutes old will startle and may even cry. They will also turn their heads towards the source of the noise, an indication that they perceive sound as localized in space. However, sensitivity to sound improves dramatically in infancy and then more slowly until the age of 10 years, when it reaches adult levels. 9 Infants are also able to distinguish the sound of the human voice from other sounds, and they seem to prefer it. They are especially interested in speech directed to them and spoken with the high pitch and slow pronunciation known as ‘baby talk’. Newborns seem to possess all the physiological prerequisites for seeing color, however there is disagreement about precisely what colors they can perceive. By two months, however, their color vision appears to be roughly equal to adults’. We also know that newborns are very nearsighted. By 7 or 8 months of age , when infants are able to crawl, their visual acuity is close to the adult level. The neonate has a very well developed sense of smell. By 5 days of age the baby will turn towards a pad soaked with breast milk, and by 8 to 10 days they will show a preference for the smell of their mother’s milk over the milk of another woman.

The abilities to detect a touch to the skin, changes in temperature, and changes in physical position develop very early in the prenatal period. Newborns show that they sense they have been touched by making a distinctive movement, such as withdrawing the part touched or turning toward the touch. Sensitivity to touch increases in the days after birth. They are sensitive to changes in temperature and responded to abrupt changes in their physical position with instinctive reflex-like movements. A number of reflexes are present at birth, for example, breathing which provides oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. Further examples are Eyeblink, the rapid closing of the eye which protects against bright lights and foreign objects, Grasping , when a finger is pressed against the baby’s palm, her finger’s will close around it. This is present at birth but disappears in 3-4 months when it is replaced by voluntary grasping. The presence of this reflex at birth and its later disappearance is a basic sign of neurological development. Other reflexes are Rooting (baby turns his head and opens his mouth when touched on the cheek), Sucking (baby sucks when something is put into her mouth), Stepping (when baby is held upright over a flat surface, he makes rhythmic leg movements), Babinski reflex (when the bottom of the baby’s foot is stroked, the toes fan out and then curls). All of these reflexes last only for a period of time. The only permanent reflexes are Breathing and Eyeblink.

RECAPITULATION: We are looking briefly at the different perspectives from which an understanding of behavior is achieved. We began with the biological perspective. The psychologist working from this viewpoint is interested in how biology can assist in enabling us to understand ourselves. We saw that, in this approach, a study is made of the central nervous system, and this study begins with the growth and development of the fetus, and continues with a study of biological changes which take place right through the course of a lifetime. To illustrate the approach we looked at the sensory capacities of the newborn, but any number of examples could have been chosen. All that is required, at this stage, is that you, the student, will understand that we learn about the environment through the use of the senses, and that these senses have a biological base. If you open any basic text-book in psychology you will find that the initial chapters will describe the development of the brain from the prenatal period, will then go on to study the physical and sensory capacities of the baby at birth and as he develops through childhood, and into adolescence and adulthood. As a consequence of what we learn from this study we are able to know what is normal development as opposed to delays in development and so on. Later in the course we will come back to some of these points. We will now continue with a brief introduction to the Behavioral perspective.

The behaviorist perspective focuses on the relation between objects, people or events in the environment (stimuli) and the person’s response to these objects or events. It takes the view that human and animal behavior can be understood entirely without reference to internal states such as thoughts or feelings, in other words, environmental events control behavior, and human conduct follows laws of behavior in the same way as the law of gravity can explain why things fall down instead of up. For behaviorists psychology is the science of behavior. That is, they held that the study of behavior needed to conform to the rigorous scientific standards as used in the natural sciences. Therefore one had to study measurable behaviours. This means studying what can be seen, what can be measured with instruments, can be measured in an experimental situation. Therefore behavioral scientists had to ignore the conscious thoughts of the person because only the person has access to their own thoughts, therefore these thoughts cannot be measured in an objective manner, they are purely subjective. These subjective thoughts (accounts) cannot be independently verified. They proposed : Study observable behaviors and environmental events, and build a science around the way people and animals behave. Hence the term ‘behaviorism’. 


B.F.Skinner observed that the behavior of animals and people can be controlled by environmental conditions that either increase the likelihood of the behavior being repeated ( through reinforcement) or decrease the likelihood of a repetition of the behavior (through punishment). He developed a theory around the notion of reinforcing behavior. He believed that behavior can be understood as a learned response to environmental events, and that behaviors are selected on the basis of their consequences. So, if I am ‘approved of’ because I use a particular perfume then I am likely to continue to use that perfume. However, if I am avoided because of the particular perfume then I will stop using it, to avoid the punishment of people not wanting to be in my company. The reinforcement is the approval, the punishment is my knowledge that people do not approve of the perfume. A better example might be to look at the work-place. If a worker is rewarded for high productivity then he is likely to continue with the high productivity. However, if having given high productivity, the worker is passed over when promotions are taking place, then he is likely to reduce productivity. While this approach has been very helpful in understanding behavior it can only give us a limited understanding. It ignores mental processes altogether and we all know that the mind (thinking, emotions, motivations...) has a substantial influence on what we decide to do, how we decide to act. At least, we do not like to consider that human beings simply respond to what happens to them from the outside as it were. We like to think that we have some free will , or some control over our behaviour. 


The Psychoanalytic perspective is very different from the previous (behaviorism) in that, not only the conscious mind is considered but also the unconscious mind is presumed to have an influence on how we behave. This approach is derived from Freud’s psychoanalytical theories in which the central concept is the unconscious mind.

Freud considered that this aspect of mind is 22 the principal determinant of motivation and personality. He stressed that the first five years of life are crucial to the formation of adult personality. He describes three aspects of mind: the id, ego and superego. The ego represents reason (rationality) which must be in control of both the other two aspects in order to enable the person to conform to social demands. The ego comes under pressure from the id and the superego. The id represents the natural urges which want immediate gratification, whilst the superego represents social sanctions (cultural values...) and can be as insistent as the id. If you think in terms of a three-way conflict in the mind: on one side of the ego (the need for reason to be in control) you have very strong desires for pleasure which want to be satisfied now, no waiting! On the other side of ego you have the internalized values of the family, the culture, the religion, the moral code, which is also putting brakes on reason (ego), and in the middle you have the awareness that pleasures have to wait until the proper time and place for fulfillment, and the urge to be over moralistic has also to be controlled so that each aspect is enabled to have some expression. Freud also held that at different stages of childhood development the gratification needs of the id are on different areas of the body. It is sufficient at this point to be aware that, from this perspective, behavior will be understood in terms of the conflict that exists between the id, ego and superego, also taking into account the defense mechanisms the ego uses to deflect otherwise intolerable levels of conflict.

It is also necessary to say that post Freudians have modified the theory to some degree. The next perspective to be mentioned is cognitive developmental. The cognitive process is defined as the psychological processes through which we acquire, store and use knowledge. When looking at the cognitive approach to understanding human behavior one is concerned with the study of cognition or thought . Many cognitive psychologists use the metaphor of the computer to understand and model the way the mind works. They use the term information processing to refer to thinking.

The environment provides inputs , which are transformed, stored, and retrieved using various mental programs, leading to specific response outputs. Just as the computer data-base of a book-shop may code the books according to genre, title, author, so the human memory stores information using codes for easy retrieval. If you think back to sixth grade class in primary school you are likely to recall immediately an amount of memories stored in the mind under the label sixth grade class or primary school... You are probably surprised to find that you recall so many memories of that situation, the name of the teacher, the friends, the enemies, the decor, the books, the subjects, the feelings, the fears, and so forth. The cognitive perspective can also be useful in understanding the decision-making process. Two researchers who have increased our understanding of the thinking process are Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. Piaget identified that the ability to think develops from birth in a stage-like manner. These stages are age related and apply equally to all members of the human species. Kohlberg further developed Piaget's theory to investigate how decisions are made in the moral domain. He concluded that logical and moral reasoning are related in that the type of moral decision made is dependent on the ability of the person to use logical reasoning. As with Piaget, he held to the notion that the development of the ability to think, in logical and moral domains, is age related. There has been some controversy, in recent years, about the 'stage' aspect of the conclusions of both these authors.

We will now return to a brief overview of the final perspective as outlined in the introduction. The humanistic perspective proposes a very positive approach to the analysis of what it is to be human. It views the human being as evolving towards actualization or the full development of the self.  Carl Rogers is one of the psychologists recognized as coming from this perspective. He holds that the 'self' is a dynamic concept which has many aspects to it.

For example, the ‘self’ develops in tandem with the social environment of the person.

By that he means that the individual’s notion of his/her self is grounded in social relationships such as the relationships within a family or a school or a group of friends… He also proposed that each person has a ‘realistic’ self concept (based on how he/she perceives others' regard them), and an ‘idealistic’ self concept (based on the kind of person he/she would like to be). Carl Rogers views the person as being very vulnerable to the positive regard that people emotionally close to her/him feel for her/him. In other words, if my parents love me and think well of me I will experience a positive notion of ‘self’, however, if they do not love me or are very critical or disappointed in me it will affect my notion of myself in a negative way. We know from the work of Korman(1970) and later Ellis & Taylor (1983)20 that self- esteem is related to how successful an individual is in getting the job he/she wants, and that that self esteem is correlated with quality and quantity of output on the job. We will be returning to a discussion of self-concept in an examination of its influence on motivation. The topic of self concept is very interesting and also very topical. However, it does have some problems in that it perceives the individual as perhaps being too dependent on other people’s reactions to the self.

CONCLUSION: In this section you have been introduced to the definition of the term Behavioral Science. You have a good idea of the disciplines which contribute to it, and which give insight into an understanding of human behavior. You have been given a brief overview of the methods used by Behavioral Scientists. You have also seen that how a particular behavior is interpreted will depend to some extent on the framework within which it is being interpreted, that is, in the context of whatever theory is being used to explain or describe the behavior.






SECTION D: Perception

The Plan of this lesson will take the flowing format:

1. Definition

2. Sensation and the senses

3. Perceptual organization 

4. Perceptual selection

5. Perceptual defence

6. Social perception

7. Reasons for studying perception

We, as human beings are constantly processing information which comes to us through the senses. Most objects in the world are charged with meaning. To survive we must understand the information we receive. We receive information, we label it, and, if we want to remember it, we store it. It is this process of organizing and labeling which we call the process of perceiving.

In particular, perception is about the interpreting, the labeling of the information. Sometimes we come across things or situations which we have not encountered before and therefore we are not sure as to how to label them. When this happens we try to fit the things or situation into a label which is nearest to where we think the object should belong. So, perceiving is primarily about interpreting information which comes to us through our senses. Perceiving is also about making choices. From the multitude of stimuli constantly bombarding our sensory organs we select certain stimuli to which we attend (Williams 1990). Therefore, perception is about the selection and interpretation of events in the world around us.

Perception is a process consisting of three parts that we use to make sense of messages we encounter. We select, organize, and interpret stimuli so that they make sense to us. This happens constantly in our personal, processional, and public lives. 

Perception in psychology can be defined as the analysis of sensory information within the brain. As we go through our day, we are surrounded by the rich stimuli of modern life and we rely heavily on our sight to inform us of where we are placed within this world. Through perception we obtain a description of our surroundings and what they mean.

Debate has been ongoing for many years on exactly what role sensory visual information plays within perception and how important our memories and past experiences are in this process.

The types of perception are often separated by the different senses. This includes visual perception, scent perception, touch perception, sound perception, and taste perception.

We perceive our environment using each of these, often simultaneously.

Gaining an Understanding of Perception Theories in Psychology

The constructive theory of perception has been criticized for its inability to explain how, if our perception process is based on past experiences, people from different cultures and lifestyles still perceive the world in a similar way. The direct theory of perception has been highlighted as being unable to account for visual illusions and areas of perception where prior knowledge is more likely to have had influence. In conclusion it is likely our visual perception processes are the result of a hybrid of these two theories, using our memories, experiences and knowledge to aid understanding of visual information where required. Perception within psychology is not something we can measure directly and it is a complex phenomenon. We may never know for sure the answers to these questions. However, as we evolve and learn more about our abilities and as science continues to develop, we are moving closer to a much deeper level of understanding.

What Is Perceptual Organization?

Perceptual organization refers to the way information is received by our senses and interpreted to make it meaningful. A lot of what we know about perceptual organization comes from Gestalt psychology. Gestalt psychologists believe that the human brain perceives a stimulus as a whole and not as the sum of its parts.

Although research shows perceptual organization applies to all the senses, it has been most studied for visual perception. Visual perception is a process of grouping the elements of an object together to determine the meaning of the object as a whole.

Major features of perceptual organization are:

  • Form perception, which allows us to recognize shapes and patterns.

  • Depth and distance perception, which is the ability to judge the distance between objects.

  • Motion perception, which is the way we interpret the speed and direction of moving objects.

  • Perceptual constancy, which is the tendency to see objects as unchanging (constant) in shape even when the environment changes.

These features of perceptual organization allow us to make sense of visual stimuli and so determine the meaning of the objects in our environment. It is possible to lead others to a desired conclusion using the theory of perceptual organization.

Examples of Perceptual Organization

Perceptual organization is influenced by previous experiences and the way we understand the world around us. Two people can look at the same image and have different interpretations of it. For example, what do you see when you look at the following image? Some people see a vase, others see two human faces. Which image a person sees depends on what they perceive as background and foreground.


Which image do you see?



An understanding of how perceptual organization works is important in many fields, including graphic design. Designers use this knowledge to create images that lead others to interpret the images they create in a certain way. Forecasters look for the patterns in weather data to help them forecast the weather. Marketers use an understanding of how humans interpret what they see in their efforts to persuade them to purchase a particular product, for example, with a TV commercial that influences how a consumer thinks about the product. Leaderboards, used to track scores and rank players in a competition, are another example of how grouping data can help us to quickly understand information.

Principles of Perceptual Organization

Perceptual organization theory is based on five rules or principles.

  • Proximity—we tend to perceive objects that are close to each other as a group.



  • Similarity—in this example of similarity, instead of six rows of circles, we tend to see three rows of black circles and three rows of white circles.



  • Continuity—the eye tends to follow lines; for example, in the image below we're more likely to perceive two overlapping lines rather than four lines meeting in the center.



  • Closure—if someone draws a circle but leaves the circle open you will see the figure as a circle before you notice it has been left incomplete. This is also called the principle of simplicity.



  • Connectedness—we tend to group elements that are connected to each other with lines, shapes, or colors as a single unit.


Together these principles help us to make sense of the objects we see. 

Perceptual Selectivity: Seeing What We See

Perceptual selectivity refers to the process by which individuals select objects in the environment for attention. Without this ability to focus on one or a few stimuli instead of the hundreds constantly surrounding us, we would be unable to process all the information necessary to initiate behavior.

In essence, perceptual selectivity works as follows:


The individual is first exposed to an object or stimulus—a loud noise, a new car, a tall building, another person, and so on. Next, the individual focuses attention on this one object or stimulus, as opposed to others, and concentrates his efforts on understanding or comprehending the stimulus. For example, while conducting a factory tour, two managers came across a piece of machinery. One manager’s attention focused on the stopped machine; the other manager focused on the worker who was trying to fix it. Both managers simultaneously asked the worker a question. The first manager asked why the machine was stopped, and the second manager asked if the employee thought that he could fix it. Both managers were presented with the same situation, but they noticed different aspects. This example illustrates that once attention has been directed, individuals are more likely to retain an image of the object or stimulus in their memory and to select an appropriate response to the stimulus. These various influences on selective attention can be divided into external influences and internal (personal) influences (see Exhibit 3.3).


Perceptual defense is a psychological concept that refers to the ways in which individuals unconsciously protect themselves from information that is perceived as threatening or uncomfortable. This phenomenon is closely related to cognitive dissonance and has been studied extensively by psychologists over the years. One example of perceptual defense is the "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" mantra. People often avoid confronting or acknowledging uncomfortable truths, instead choosing to ignore or deny them altogether. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as refusing to watch certain news programs or refusing to engage in conversations about difficult topics. 

Another example of perceptual defense is the way in which people interpret ambiguous stimuli. For example, if a person is shown an image that could be interpreted as either a rabbit or a duck, they may see it as one or the other depending on their current mindset or emotional state. This is known as selective perception, and it can influence how we interpret information in a verity of contexts. 

What does it mean to be Socially Perceptive?

Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.

What is an example of Social Perception?

Facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, and body position or movement are a few examples of ways people communicate without words. A real-world example of social perception is understanding that others disagree with what one said when one sees them roll their eyes.

Social Perception

Social perception is a term used in social psychology to refer to the process of interpreting and making judgments about the behavior and characteristics of other people. It involves using information gathered through observation and interaction with others to form impressions, make inferences, and understand social situations.

Social perception encompasses a wide range of cognitive processes, including attention, memory, categorization, and inference. These processes are shaped by a variety of factors, such as cultural norms, personal biases, and individual differences in personality and cognitive style.

Social perception can be influenced by various factors, such as the physical appearance, facial expressions, and nonverbal behavior of others, as well as the social context in which interactions take place. The accuracy of social perception can have significant implications for social relationships, as it affects the quality of interpersonal communication, the formation of friendships and romantic relationships, and the effectiveness of social influence and persuasion.

Theory's of social perception

There are several theories of social perception in social psychology.

Here are some of the most important ones:

  1. Attribution Theory: This theory focuses on how people explain the behavior of others by attributing it to either internal factors (such as personality traits or abilities) or external factors (such as situational factors or luck).

  2. Social Identity Theory: This theory proposes that people categorize themselves and others into social groups based on shared characteristics such as race, gender, religion, and nationality. These group identities can influence how people perceive and interact with others.

  3. Cognitive Dissonance Theory: This theory suggests that people experience psychological discomfort when their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are inconsistent with one another. To reduce this discomfort, people may adjust their perceptions or attitudes to align with their behaviors.

  4. Social Comparison Theory: This theory explains how people evaluate their own abilities, opinions, and behaviors by comparing themselves to others. People may use social comparison to validate their own beliefs and behaviors or to improve their self-esteem.

  5. Stereotype Content Model: This theory proposes that people categorize others into social groups based on two dimensions: warmth (whether the group is friendly and trustworthy) and competence (whether the group is skilled and capable). These perceptions of warmth and competence can influence how people perceive and interact with members of different social groups.

These are just a few examples of the many theories of social perception in social psychology. Each theory offers a unique perspective on how people perceive and interpret social information in different contexts.

Functions of Social Perception

Social perception serves several important functions in social psychology, including:

  1. Forming Impressions: Social perception helps people form initial impressions of others based on their appearance, behavior, and other social cues. These impressions can guide subsequent interactions and influence how people perceive and respond to others over time.

  2. Understanding Social Situations: Social perception helps people understand the social context in which interactions take place, including the roles and expectations of different individuals and groups. This understanding can help people navigate complex social situations and communicate effectively with others.

  3. Making Judgments: Social perception allows people to make judgments and attributions about the behavior of others, such as whether someone is trustworthy, competent, or likeable. These judgments can guide subsequent interactions and influence the outcomes of social interactions.

  4. Facilitating Social Influence: Social perception can influence the extent to which people are influenced by others, such as by shaping their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. By understanding how others perceive them, people can tailor their communication strategies to be more persuasive and effective.

  5. Enhancing Social Identity: Social perception can strengthen people’s sense of social identity by reinforcing their membership in certain groups and distinguishing them from others. This can foster feelings of belonging and social connection, which can have important psychological and social benefits.

Why consider Perception?
A few reasons as to why it is important for an understanding of ourselves and others are, firstly, we live in a very market driven environment and business people need to remain competitive. One way of doing so is to have a better understanding than a competitor of how consumer's perceive products and services. Secondly, in the area of managing people it is important to understand how workers perceive particular situations or particular management decisions and so forth. Thirdly, as parents, friends, lovers, we can gain insight into our own perceptions and the perceptions of others through devoting some time to thinking about the process itself and about some of the factors which influence this process. Understanding individual perception and how we formulate our views, how this they are personal and not entirely factual, is important in understanding the behaviors of self and others. 

How does our perception of the world affect our behavior?

People perceive things and interpret them to be true, this shapes their behaviors.

Individuals may interpret reality in different ways, which may or may not be true.

They act by their interpretations, whether or not they are accurate.

When it comes to behavior, the perceived world takes precedence over the true world.

Thus you have the cause of conflict, misunderstandings, and frustrations among individuals, families, communities, cultures, and nations. 

One's attitudes, motivations, expectations, behavior and interests 

are some of the factors affecting perception.

Our perception is important to recognize because it is the driving force behind our reaction to things. Heredity, needs, peer group, interests, and expectations all influence our perception.

Additional Influences on One's Perception:


The initial stage of the perception process is when a person decides what to focus on, either consciously or unconsciously. The mind will focus on something specific because it cannot concentrate on all the stimuli received. It could be a fragrance, an emotion, a sound, or anything else; whatever it is, it becomes the preferred stimulus.


Organization is the second stage of perception in which we cognitively organize stimuli into meaningful and understandable patterns. The process makes it possible to make sense of what we’re seeing. Factors that impact how a person links experiences into wholes or patterns include closeness, similarity, and consistency.


The process through which we represent and comprehend stimuli is known as interpretation.

It is when we make meaning of what has happened and then decide what it means to us. Different people might reach different conclusions given the same stimulus. The interpretations are subjective and are based on personal factors such as cultural norms, interests, values, experiences, ambitions, motivation, self-concept, and other personal influences.

Internal Factors

Let's look at some of the major internal factors that influence perception.


An individual's personality affects how they process information and choose their perceptions. For example, meticulous persons are likely to go through details and external cues more carefully than unconscientious persons.

Motivation and Learning

People are more motivated to respond to stimuli that positively affected them in the past, or to satisfy an immediate need in a particular situation. A mother who just bought $200 worth of groceries feels hungry already. She perceives that she is too tired to cook, and decides to order take-out instead.


Learned patterns from a prior perception also affect how people attribute meaning and behave according to that perception. A student who has three projects to submit tries to decide which task he should accomplish first. He learned from his last semester that when he worked on the most accessible project first, he could have more time to do the other, more challenging projects. Based on this pattern, he perceives which of the three projects is the most difficult, then decides to follow through with what he did in the previous semester, to complete all his projects on time.

Physiological Influences

In a physiological sense, influences on perception may come from developmental changes in our bodies as we age, how we process sensory inputs, health, hunger, and neurological conditions affecting behavior.


A person’s ability to receive and interpret sensory information can influence his perception. A person who is color-blind may perceive a painting differently from another person who sees colors differently. Persons who react to stimuli more strongly than others may perceive something as a threat or harm.


Age can affect our perception. Growing up as a child, you may like wearing matching outfits with your siblings because this is something valuable to you, but as you become older, it’s not a big deal anymore. As a teenager, maybe you don’t see the importance of financial literacy, savings, and investment. However, as an adult, you now see its value and begin to educate yourself on spending wisely. Another physiological aspect of age is the experiences gained, and the developmental differences of the lifespan.

Psychological Influences

These influences include mood or emotional state, and self-concept. Psychological factors impact how we perceive others, and perception of others also relates to influences on perception communication. How we perceive others may not always be accurate. This can affect how we communicate that perception through behavior and human relationships. The halo or reverse halo effect exemplifies this. This concept tells us that people have the tendency to generalize their perception of others, based on one negative or positive trait that they see.


Do you sometimes find yourself overreacting in some situations? 

Moods can also affect perception. A person in a bad mood may find a minor inconvenience very stressful or annoying, which usually wouldn't affect them much on other days. The opposite holds true when you're in a good mood.


Self-concept is how a person sees himself and the beliefs that go along with it.

This concept isn’t permanent. It may change from time to time based on a person’s positive and negative experiences and interactions with others It can also be true of how a person perceives others. A person who has an overall positive belief about himself can confidently interact with others and create healthy perceptions of other people.

Influences on Perception - Key takeaways

  • Perception is the process of organizing, analyzing, and consciously perceiving sensory data from the environment.

  • There are three stages in the perception process: selection, organization, and interpretation.

    • Selection is the initial stage of the perception process when a person decides what to focus on, either consciously or unconsciously.

    • Organization is the second stage of perception, in which we cognitively organize stimuli into meaningful and understandable patterns.

    • Interpretation is the process through which we represent and comprehend stimuli.

  • Environmental influences include the physical factors and the people at play in the environment.

  • Cultural influences affect how a person selects perception, organizes that information, and interprets it into a behavior.

  • Cultivation theory states that what media portrays can influence the attitude and behavior of a person. The type of content a person consumes influences his perception of the world.

How does Behavioral science help us?

Behavioral sciences are important because they provide clues about how the brain functions. The behavioral sciences use research to understand how individuals learn and how they can be taught. Behavioral sciences are applied in the fields of economics, psychology, education, health, and law.

Regardless of what field of study and career you chose; Behavioral Science is important to understanding how those you interact with collect, understand, and respond to the information and situations around them. 

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Week 4
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