Perceptual Set: Definition and Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is Perception?
  • 0:40 Perceptual Set Defined
  • 1:34 Selector and Interpreter
  • 2:21 Examples of Perceptual Set
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Hultzman
Perceptual set is our tendency to interpret things in certain ways based on previous experiences. This lesson explains perceptual set, provide examples, and ends with a quiz to determine what you have learned.

What Is Perception?

If we had ten people in a room looking at a bouquet of flowers and asked them to describe what they saw, we would probably get ten very different explanations. Some people might focus on the colors of the blooms. Others might describe the different types of flowers; daisies, roses, or carnations, for example. Someone could describe the flowers as ones that are similar to those that he or she has seen in the past. Some people might even describe how the flowers make them feel or what they remind them of.

How is it that ten people can look at the same bunch of flowers and yet experience it so differently? The concept of perception is at the heart of this answer.

Perceptual Set Defined

Perception refers to the way an individual experiences or interprets something. Psychologists explain that perception is largely dependent on an individual's previous experiences. This helps to explain why different people react to the same stimulus in very different ways. Everything that we believe and have experienced in life impacts the way we interpret and experience all future events and stimuli. Individual factors such as motivation, personal expectations, and culture can also influence the way in which we interact with the world around us.

Our tendency to pay attention to certain things and ignore others in the face of new information is called perceptual set. More specifically, we unknowingly use a set of previously gathered information to perceive new information. The previous experience influences the current one, thus creating our unique perception of it. Our perceptual set explains why we will see the flowers differently than everyone else.

Selector and Interpreter

Within the study of perceptual sets, we can discuss people's perceptions as being shaped by one of two processes. The first process is that of a selector, which is based upon preexisting expectations and experiences. Selector bias comes from previous experiences, especially successful experiences. If a person has succeeded at a similar task in the past, they tend to look for the same kind of things to make their new experiences successful. The second process is referred to as the interpreter. A person's knowledge of how to classify and think about certain data leads to a bias toward that data. Interpreter bias is best set out with the old adage, 'When you have a hammer, everything else looks like a nail.' These processes are not mutually exclusive, and both can influence a person at the same time.

Examples of Perceptual Set

Let's use our bouquet of flowers again to explain the concept of perceptual set more fully. We asked ten people to look at that bunch of flowers and tell us what they saw. Let's examine the answers of a few of our participants. Note how each person is more or less influenced by potential selectors and interpreters.

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