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.
Karen, who is planning her wedding, described the different types of flowers and told us that daises mean friendship and roses mean love. She noted that the long stem varieties tend to hold up better for longer periods of time. Her fiancé, Tom, used the word 'expensive' to describe the bouquet. Mary, who is a nurse in a hospital, said the flowers were cheery and made her smile. Mary noted that the vase being used to hold the flowers looked fragile. Mike, who works at a funeral home, stated that the color of the flowers was too bright.
Karen provides a good example of the interpreter process. Her research into flowers for her wedding has given her knowledge of the specific types of flowers to use. Mike provides a good example of the selector. He's likely set a number of flower arrangements for funerals and find the mood ruined by too many bright colors. Of course, both of them likely have some of the other process working for them as well. Karen may have seen successful weddings in the past and Mike likely has much knowledge of how flowers fit into funerals and wakes.
I am sure you can see where we're going here. Each individual's perceptual set varied based on their unique experiences, beliefs, and motivations. Each person noticed different things in the same bouquet. Each person felt differently about the very same bunch of flowers. The experience, or perception, of the bouquet was different for each person because of their unique perceptual set.
Perception is the unique way an individual views the world. Perceptual set refers to the information people use to understand new things. Perceptual set influences our perception. Each person's perceptual set is different because of individual differences in things like life experiences, memories, beliefs, and personal motivations. Perceptual set impacts the ways in which we encounter and navigate new information and new experiences.