Organizational Psychology (PSY510)
Perception may be defined as the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory
information. The word perception comes from the Latin capere, meaning "to take," the prefix per meaning
"completely." Methods of studying perception range from essentially biological or physiological approaches,
through psychological approaches through the philosophy of mind.
In short, perception is a very complex cognitive process that yields a unique picture of the world, a picture
that may be quite different from reality. In terms or organizational psychology, perception plays the role of
creating a picture for the employee based on his or her own thinking. Therefore, the same situations/stimuli
may produce very different reactions and behaviours from different employees. Understanding the
difference between this perceived image and the real image is imperative to understand behaviour of
employees. The perceptual image of the manager may be quite different from the perceptual image of the
employee, and both may be very different from reality.
Sensations and Perceptions
Sensations can be defined as the passive process of bringing information from the outside world into the
body and to the brain. The process is passive in the sense that we do not have to be consciously engaging in
a "sensing" process.
Perception can be defined as the active process of selecting, organizing, and interpreting the information
brought to the brain by the senses.
How They Work Together
Sensation occurs when:
a) Sensory organs absorb energy from a physical stimulus in the environment.
b) Sensory receptors convert this energy into neural impulses and send them to the brain.
a) The brain organizes the information and translates it into something meaningful.
You may look at a painting and not really understand the message the artist is trying to convey. But, if
someone tells you about it, you might begin to see things in the painting that you were unable to see before.
All of this is called Psychophysics
Psychophysics can be defined as, the study of how physical stimuli are translated into psychological
experience. In order to measure these events, psychologists use Thresholds. Threshold is a dividing line
between what has detectable energy and what does not. For example - many classrooms have automatic
light sensors. When people have not been in a room for a while, the lights go out. However, once someone
walks into the room, the lights go back on. For this to happen, the sensor has a threshold for motion that
must be crossed before it turns the lights back on. So, dust floating in the room should not make the lights
go on, but a person walking in should.
Organizing raw sensory stimuli into meaningful experiences involves cognition, a set of mental activities
that includes thinking, knowing, and remembering. Knowledge and experience are extremely important to
perception, because they help us make sense of the input to our sensory systems.
Gestalt Laws of Grouping
How people perceive a well-organized pattern or whole, instead of many separate parts, is a topic of interest
in Gestalt psychology. According to Gestalt psychologists, the whole is different than the sum of its parts.
Gestalt is a German word meaning configuration or pattern.
A major goal of Gestalt theory in the 20th century was to specify the brain processes that might account for
the organization of perception. Gestalt theorists, chief among them the German-U.S. psychologist and
philosopher, the founder of Gestalt theory, Max Wertheimer and the German-U.S. psychologists Kurt
Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler, rejected the earlier assumption that perceptual organization was the product
of learned relationships (associations), the constituent elements of which were called simple sensations.
Although Gestaltists agreed that simple sensations logically could be understood to comprise organized
percepts, they argued that percepts themselves were basic to experience. One does not perceive so many
discrete dots (as simple sensations), for example; the percept is that of a dotted line.
Without denying that learning can play some role in perception, many theorists took the position that
perceptual organization reflects innate properties of the brain itself. Indeed, perception and brain functions
Organizational Psychology (PSY510)
were held by Gestaltists to be formally identical (or isomorphic), so much so that to study perception is to
study the brain. Much contemporary research in perception is directed toward inferring specific features of
brain function from such behavior as the reports (introspections) people give of their sensory experiences.
More and more such inferences are gratifyingly being matched with physiological observations of the brain
Many investigators relied heavily on introspective reports, treating them as though they were objective
descriptions of public events. Serious doubts were raised in the 1920s about this use of introspection by the
U.S. psychologist John B. Watson and others, who argued that it yielded only subjective accounts and that
percepts are inevitably private experiences and lack the objectivity commonly required of scientific
disciplines. In response to objections about subjectivism, there arose an approach known as behaviorisms
that restricts its data to objective descriptions or measurements of the overt behavior of organisms other
than the experimenter himself.
Wertheimer (1923) studied some factors which influence grouping in images, the so called Gestalt Principles of
Perceptual Organization. He identified the following grouping factors
Figure and Background
Not only does perception involve organization and grouping, it also involves distinguishing an object from
its surroundings. Notice that once you perceive an object, the area around that object becomes the
background. Gestalt psychologists have devised ambiguous figure-ground relationships - that is, drawings in
which the figure and ground can be reversed - to illustrate their point that the whole is different from the
sum of its parts. The "figure and ground" illusion is commonly experienced when one gazes at the
illustration of a black vase the outline of which is created by two white profiles. At any moment one will be
able to see either the black vase (in the centre area) as "figure" or the white profiles on each side (in which
case the black is seen as "ground"). The fluctuations of figure and ground may occur even when one fails
deliberately to shift attention, appearing without conscious effort. Seeing one aspect apparently excludes
seeing the other.
Although such illustrations may fool our visual systems, people are rarely confused about what they see. In
real world, vases do not change into faces as we look at them. Instead, our perceptions are remarkably
stable. The Gestaltist's concept is "figure-ground segregation" is not only referring to foreground-
background, but also covers situations, e.g., in which you look through a window outside at a tree. The
frame of the window is then the ground the tree the "figure", although it is behind the "ground."
Objects that are close to each other in physical space are often perceived as belonging together. This is the
law of proximity or closeness. In the figure below, proximity results in a grouping containing pairs of dots.
This law states that objects that are similar are perceived as going together. For example, if I ask you to
group the following objects: (* * # * # # #) into groups, you would probably place the asterisks and the
pound signs into distinct groups.
Organizational Psychology (PSY510)
Continuity of Direction
There is a tendency in our perception to follow a direction, to connect the elements in a way that makes
them seem contiguous or flowing in a particular direction We follow whatever direction we are led.
. Dots in a smooth curve appear to go together more than jagged angles. This principle really gets at just
how lazy humans are when it comes to perception.
There is a tendency in our perception to complete incomplete figures, to fill in gaps. And units forming a
closed figure tend to be perceived together. We actually tend to complete a form when it has gaps.
We group elements that make a good form. However, the idea of "good form" is a little vague and
subjective. Most psychologists think good form is what ever is easiest or most simple. For example, what do
you see here: : > ) do you see a smiling face? There are simply 3 elements from my keyboard next to each
other, but it is "easy" to organize the elements into a shape that we are familiar with or which is meaningful.
From a purely biological standpoint our senses are utilized to perceive the world around us and to help us
learn about it (Kerby, 1975). We take in stimuli from this world by tasting, touching, smelling, hearing and
seeing what's going on around us. Since stimulation comes at us from several directions at once, we have
the biological capability to physically 'tune out' most of what we do not need for the task at hand.
The human body receive a number of stimuli. The noise of the environment, the sound of the home
appliances etc. are a few of the stimuli affecting the senses plus the impact of the total environmental
situation. Sometimes the stimuli are below the person's conscious threshold, a process called subliminal
perception. Despite the presence of all these stimuli, only few are registered by the body. Why it happens
can be explained as follows:
The principles of perceptual selection involve two types of factors:
· Objective Factors
Organizational Psychology (PSY510)
· Subjective Factors
According to this principle, the more intense the stimulus, more its chances of being perceived. A loud
noise is more likely to be perceived as compared to a softer one.
According to this principle, the larger the object, the more likely it will be perceived. The tallest building in a
bird-eye view of a city is more likely to be perceived than a smaller one.
This principle states that external stimuli that stand out against the background will receive greater attention.
For example, warning signs on road with black colour on yellow background are based on the principle of
Repeated external stimulus is more attention getting than a single one. Advertisement efforts are often
based on same principle.
Motion Vs stationary
The motion principle says that people pay more attention to moving objects in the field of vision than they
will to stationary objects.
The novelty familiarity principle states that either a novel or a familiar external situation can serve as
Motivation and Habits
Motivation and habits play a vital role in determining the perceptions of individuals in an organization. In
most cases, however, learning motivation and personality lead to extreme individual difference s because of
the way the individual is set to perceive. People may make wrong perceptions or perceive the same stimulus
or stimulation in entirely different ways.
· Ehrenstein, W. (1930). Untersuchungen über Figur-Grund-Fragen. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 117, 339-412.
· History of study of perception.
· Theory of figure and ground: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure-ground
· Study of optical illusions and its principles:
Table of Contents: