Stages of Perception: Stimulation, Organization, Interpretation, Memory & Recall

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  • 0:00 Perception
  • 1:06 Receiving and…
  • 3:22 Memory and Recall
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How do we perceive the world around us? In this lesson, you will explore the five stages of perception, discover how this process is unique to each person, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Look at this image. What's the first thing you see - a vase or two profiles of people looking at each other? I'm guessing that you've seen this before; it's pretty common, but it illustrates the fact that all of us see the world just a bit differently. Even when we look at the same image, people see different things -- but why? Because how we see the world is more than just a simple fact of light particles entering our eyes and sending signals to the brain.

We call the awareness and interpretation of external objects and events perception. You see, your brain can receive signals, but it also has to interpret those signals and figure out what they mean to you. This means that perception is a personal, subjective understanding of the world. It's a bit different to everyone. That's why some of us see a white and gold dress, while others see one that is blue and black. The world is just a bit different to each of us.

Receiving and Interpreting Signals

The whole idea that we interpret our reality sounds pretty complex, but really, perception is just a basic 5-step process. The first three steps involve the way that we receive and process signals, starting with stimulation, the contact between our five senses and external stimuli. Basically, this part of the process is what happens when your brain receives a signal in the form of sight, smell, sound, taste, or feel. Sometimes this stimulus is enough to capture your attention; just think of walking past the hot pretzel cart at the mall. But other times signals are received without us necessarily being aware of it.

After signals are received, the mind has to sort them. Is this a sight, a sound, a smell? Is this signal familiar, can we associate it with positive or negative memories, or is it completely new? This stage of perception is called organization, recognizing and identifying signals. This leads directly into stage three, interpretation-evaluation, where the brain determines what those signals mean to the individual. You have received a signal, your brain categorized it, and now it's time to figure out how to interact with it.

This is where your own personal experiences make a difference. If you had a very positive relationship with your childhood dog, then seeing a puppy may make you feel happy or nostalgic. Otherwise, the puppy could be seen as an irritant, a threat, or something that doesn't really matter. The interpretation-evaluation stage of perception screens information through a variety of lenses simultaneously, including social and cultural expectations, personal history, emotional state, gender, physical needs, and subconscious desires. This entire process happens instantly and subconsciously. The result is your personal perception of the world around you.

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