Selective Perception: Theory & Examples

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  • 0:52 Selective Perception Theory
  • 2:52 Example in a Research Study
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

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

In this lesson, we will discuss selective perception and the selective perception theory. Learn more about selective perception from examples. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Example of Selective Perception

Jane is an avid runner and a self-proclaimed health nut. She spends two hours each day at the gym, eats only healthy, low-fat meals, and is a member of several online fitness groups. Jane is also a cigarette smoker. Though she knows about the health risks of smoking, Jane believes that she will not have any adverse health risks as long as she exercises, eats well, and smokes less than one pack a day.

While looking through a fitness magazine, Jane came across two advertisements. One was for a book about weightlifting for women, and the other was an advertisement about the dangers of smoking tobacco products. After reading the advertisements, Jane went online and purchased the weightlifting book. However, she paid no attention to the smoking advertisement and forgot about it before she made it to the last page of the magazine.

Selective Perception Theory

Selective perception refers to the process by which we select, categorize, and analyze stimuli from our environment to create meaningful experiences while blocking out stimuli that contradicts our beliefs or expectations. That is, we focus on certain aspects in our environment while excluding others. In our example, Jane focused her attention on the weightlifting advertisement while completely ignoring the smoking ad, which contradicted her beliefs about smoking.

The selective perception theory holds that we filter stimuli both consciously and unconsciously as we perceive the stimuli. Consciously, we are able to block out certain stimuli, such as colors, sounds, and images. We can consciously focus our attention on specific stimuli and disregard distracting, unimportant, or contradicting information. In other words, we actively choose what information we digest and what we discard. This skill enables us to turn our attention away from certain stimuli and handle the multiple distractions that we encounter throughout our day.

However, selective perception also happens unconsciously, without any purposeful effort on our part. For example, there have been studies that found that we are more likely to recognize certain shapes and colors within our field of vision than others.

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