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Perceptual Errors in the Workplace: Factors that Distort Perception

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn

Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

Several factors can impact one's perception in ways that could result in judgmental errors. Learn about perceptual errors and explore their different types, including the halo effect, central tendency, recency effects, contrast effects, stereotyping, and selective perception. Updated: 09/18/2021

Perceptual Errors

I want you all to meet Bill. Bill is a good guy, hard-working, fun to be around and always there to lend a helping hand. Thanks, Bill, for being such a great guy! The only problem Bill has is he is always trying to find shortcuts when dealing with people. He would try to find a shortcut to boil an egg if he thought it would work. You see, it's not that Bill is trying to cut corners or find shortcuts just because he wants to save time. He just thinks, at times, he has seen similar or been in similar situations before, so he can just make quick judgments about what he sees or is experiencing.

Bill, you see, is guilty of making perceptual errors (sorry to break it to you, Bill). That is to say, he either knowingly or unknowingly tries to find shortcuts in making judgments of others. These shortcuts are rooted in his experiences and beliefs and at times are very hard to change. Having said that, let's sit Bill down and talk to him about the shortcut types he might be taking in an effort to rid him of his terrible shortcut thought process.

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  • 0:05 Perceptual Errors
  • 1:05 Types of Shortcuts
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Types of Shortcuts

As we examine Bill, it will help us to point out to him that different perceptual errors he is making are leading to these shortcuts he takes. Once he learns to identify them, he will be able to address them and not have them get in the way of potentially making a bad decision based on his perceptual errors and the shortcuts they lead to. Okay, Bill, have a seat and let's talk about the different types of shortcuts you are taking.

First, there's the halo effect. When you take this shortcut, Bill, you are taking an impression that might have been created for one situation (or person) and letting that influence your opinion in other situations (or individuals). Remember when you reviewed Poindexter and thought he was great in the technology aspect of his job? You assumed he was good in other aspects, but he really wasn't. Well, that's an example of when you took the halo effect shortcut.

Next, we have central tendency. At the last training session we had, you mentioned that the average test grades for your team were good. You looked at the average results of your team but didn't realize that meant that some did poorly and needed help, while others did very well and should have been praised. If I remember correctly, the test had 10 questions and the central tendency was 7, but you did not look at the individuals that received poor grades, which dragged the central tendency down, or the ones that got good grades.

Next, we have recency effects. Boy, Bill, this one really got me upset. Yesterday, I gave you five different tasks to do, and you only did the last one I spoke about. You were exhibiting the recency effect, which means you recalled only the more recent piece of information you received. You said to me that you remembered the last one best; well, that is what is meant by the recency effect. You remembered the last task I presented to you the best, as it was the last one; hence, it was more recent in your mind.

Then, we had contrast effects. Remember when we were talking about Poindexter just a few minutes ago? Well if you remember, Carl was in the review with Poindexter, and you compared the technical abilities of Carl to those of Poindexter. Bill, what you were doing was contrasting other people to Poindexter. In other words, you were contrasting between the decision item (Carl) and the reference item (Poindexter) to make a comparison decision.

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