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Perceptual Constancy in Psychology: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Perceptual Constancy Defined
  • 1:55 Types of Perceptual Constancy
  • 2:43 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that perceptual constancy assists you in identifying objects under changing conditions? Learn more about perceptual constancy from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Perceptual Constancy Defined

Perceptual constancy refers to the tendency to perceive an object you are familiar with as having a constant shape, size, and brightness despite the stimuli changes that occur. But what does this really mean?

Suppose you are at a neighborhood bus stop with a friend. You see the bus as it turns the corner a few blocks away. From a distance, the bus looks like a mere dot in your field of vision. You put up your palm and notice that you can cover the entire area of the bus with your palm. As the bus approaches the stop, it begins to take up more and more of your field of vision. Your palm no longer covers the area of the bus.

By the time the bus reaches the stop, you realize that the bus is twice as tall as you. Despite the fact that the bus now takes up a majority of your field of vision, you don't perceive the bus as having grown. You know that the bus has the same size, rectangular shape, and brightness now as it did when you saw it in the distance. The reason you know this is due to perceptual constancy.

Even though the image of the bus gets bigger in size, you have enough experiences with buses to know that the actual size of the bus remains constant. You are able to perceive the size of the bus as stable even though the features of the bus continually change in your field of vision. It is perceptual constancy that allows you to identify objects under different conditions, as you mentally reconstruct images of these objects. For example, the bus appears to be the same size in sunlight during the summer, as well as during a dark, snowy, evening in the winter.

Perceptual constancy can be reduced if you are not very familiar with the object, or if there is a decrease in the number of environmental cues to assist with the object's identification. So, what are the different types of perceptual constancies?

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