Influences on Perception

How we react and how we communicate depend on our perceptions. Rather than being black or white or an absolute, perception can vary depending on the perceiver. For example, what we perceive is hinged on how and what we focus on or what we select for our attention. In other words, a person perceives and remembers things differently on the basis of his or her orientation: biography, personality, cultural in�uences, fears, hopes, dreams, beliefs, values, gender, age, family background, and peer in�uences. We tend to look for things that we want to see.

Our selective perceptions and interpretations are in�uenced by several practices that have the

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potential to cause miscommunication. So why do people perceive situations differently? We all select what we want to pay attention to in order to make sense of our world. We all have selective

perceptions, selective attentions, and selective exposure (Beebe et al., 2017):

Selective perception is the tendency to see according to our own orientations.

Selective attention is the tendency to focus on one thing versus another.

Selective exposure is limiting our exposure to include some stimuli and disregard other stimuli.

Let’s look at an example about how what we select colors our perception and, therefore, affects how

we communicate.

Selective Perception

Shanti is a senior in high school and is on the hunt for a college or a university. She is interested in the environment but is not very good in higher math and is afraid of a program that requires a lot of math courses.

Shanti has selected three colleges to visit on the basis of her interests, web researches, as well as peer and counselor’s suggestions about programs focused on the environment, which are not heavily math oriented.

The �rst college she has selected is only 50 miles from home, and therefore, she can easily go back home when she wants. This is the �rst time that Shanti has been away from her family, and she is nervous about going away. Even though this college is not strong in environmental programs, Shanti

has still selected this college as an option. Her perception of the college, when she and her parents

visited, was focused mainly on how close the college is to home rather than on the college’s academic offerings.

Selective Attention

The second college that Shanti has selected is much further away but is the college that her best friend

has also selected. When Shanti and her parents visited the second college, Shanti focused on how

much fun it would be to go to this college with her friend. The idea of having her friend as a roommate

and not having to deal with someone that she does not know is very appealing to her. Shanti’s parents

recognized Shanti’s fears and made it a point to pull her attention to other aspects of the university as

well. They remarked about the old dorms, high tuition, and other aspects that Shanti didn’t see.



Selective Exposure

The third college that Shanti and her parents visited is very strong in environmental programs.

However, this is a religion-based university and very strict about religious exposure in the classroom.

Even though Shanti does not belong to the religion supported by the university, she decided to visit the college anyway because of the academic programs. When Shanti and her parents arrived, they were

given a tour by a college ambassador. The ambassador was a senior and explained to Shanti about

campus life, along with the rules and restrictions. After hearing about how regulated campus life is,

Shanti had grave reservations as she had much wider interests and beliefs. Shanti’s parents agreed

that going to a college is much more than academics and that she needs to have a wide variety of

experiences and exposure to different ideas and types of people.

Although the above examples of selective perception, selective attention, and selective exposure are

given as isolated phenomena, all three processes can be connected in reality. In other words, if we do

not selectively perceive or focus on a particular situation, person, idea, or attitude, then we will not

bring it to our attention. For example, selective exposure works in concert with selective perception

and selective attention. If we restrict what we are exposed to, then we are ensuring that we will not

perceive and attend to what we restrict.


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