Steps of the Perceptual Process

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  • 0:00 Perception
  • 1:03 How We Perceive Others
  • 1:53 Three Stages of Perception
  • 4:14 Perception of Ourselves
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michele Chism

Michele is presently a part time adjunct instructor at Faulkner University in the Counselor Education Department where she teaches Measurement and Assessment and Diagnosis and Treatment. I formerly taught at the University of West Alabama where I taught School Counseling and College Student Development Counseling. I was also the Student Success Coordinator for the College of Education.

Did you ever wonder how we choose what we see? In this lesson, we will learn about the perceptual process. In the perceptual process, we will learn how we select, organize, and interpret visual information.


Imagine an elephant. What's the first part of that elephant that comes to your mind? Is it the tusks, the trunk, or maybe those impressive ears? It's all about how you perceive the elephant.

Perception is a subjective, active and creative process through which we assign meaning to sensory information to understand ourselves and others. Another person looking at the same elephant might see it in a completely different way than you do. This is because perception is unique to each person, with no two people perceiving exactly the same or perceiving 100% of all things at all times. This perception process happens thousands of times a day without us being conscious of it.

Let's move past elephants and talk about people. The way we perceive others affects our communication with them. We say things like, 'I understand your feelings.' But there is no way we can feel exactly what someone else feels. We can only try to understand by how we select, organize, and interpret cues.

How We Perceive Others

Perception of others involves sensing, organizing, and interpreting information about people and what they say and do. We make instantaneous evaluations that cause automatic judgments of positive and negative reactions toward others, which occur outside of our awareness. We trust them similar to how we trust our senses, not realizing they are biased. The messages we send to others can affect their perception of themselves and can challenge communication with others.

For example, Mary sees Bob as she is walking down the street. As she passes him, she notices the frown on his face, assumes that he is an unpleasant person, and crosses the street to avoid him. But Mary was limited in what she could perceive. The truth was someone had hit Bob's car and left the scene. Mary missed an opportunity to meet Bob because she misinterpreted his facial expression.

Three Stages of Perception

There are three stages of perception: selection, organization, and interpretation. In selection, the first stage, we choose stimuli that attract our attention. We focus on the ones that stand out to our senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch). About 10,000 bits of sensory information are available every second, and this is further complicated by our physiological, psychological, and emotional states. Take Barbra, for instance - she just walked into a gigantic shoe store to do some shopping. Out of all the shelves and counters in the store, her eyes are immediately drawn to the women's shoes. The shoes in this section are the stimuli that stand out in her senses. Now that Barbra knows where to start, she can move on to the next stage of perception.

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