What is Visual Perception? - Definition & Theory

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  • 0:00 Visual Perception
  • 0:25 Definition
  • 0:56 Top-Down Processing
  • 1:55 Bottom-Up Processing
  • 2:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Holly DeLuca

Holly has taught special education students and has a master's degree in special education

In this lesson, we'll explore visual perception, touching upon the top-down and bottom-up theories of perception by looking at scenarios we experience on an everyday basis.

Visual Perception


Take a look at this image. Which line looks longer to you, A or B? Most people may say B looks longer, simply because the points are facing in, rather than out. However, these lines are exactly the same length, which you'd see if you used a ruler to measure them. There's a reason why this occurs, and that is what we'll look at in this lesson.


Visual perception is the ability to see, organize, and interpret one's environment. In our example, your eyes 'took in' the lines as well as the points on the ends of the lines. At the same time, your brain was organizing and making sense of the image. This is a very important process because it gives us the ability to learn new information. Without visual perception, you would not be able to make sense of the words on a page, recognize common objects, or have the eye-hand coordination required for many daily tasks.

Top-Down Processing

One theory of visual perception is called top-down processing, where we use our own knowledge and expectations to influence what we see. According to this theory, we draw on our understanding of a concept in order to make sense of the individual components.

top down processing

For example, at first glance, many people would probably see these two words as 'the cat', but after closer inspection, we can see that the second word is not really a word at all. It says 'CHT'. Because our brains have an expectation of what we will read, we skipped right over the fact that it said CHT instead of CAT. The top-down processing model explains why we're able to look at and understand new information quickly: we use our previous experiences to help us learn new information. For instance, this theory explains why we know what a bus is and whether it's a school bus, a public transportation bus, or a double decker bus. We understand the concept of a bus, so when we see a new color or kind of bus, we know that it's still a bus.

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