The first manger would probably evaluate her assistant negatively; the second manager would probably evaluate the person positively. The point is that none of us sees reality. We interpret what we see and call it reality. And, of course, as the example shows, we behave according to our perception.
Perception is a process by which individuals give meaning to their environment by organizing and interpreting their sensory impressions. Research on perception consistently demonstrates that individuals may look at the same thing yet perceive it differently. One manager, for instance, can interpret the fact that her assistant regularly takes several days to make important decisions as evidence that the assistant is slow, disorganized, and afraid to make decisions. Another manager with the same assistant might interpret the same tendency as evidence that the assistant is thoughtful, thorough, and deliberate.
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE PERCEPTION
How do we explain the fact that people can perceive the same thing differently? A number of factors act to shape and sometimes distort perception. These factors can reside in the perceiver; in the object, or target, being perceived; or in the context of the situation in which perception occurs.
The Perceiver: when an individual looks at a target and attempts to interpret what he or she sees, the individual personal characteristics will heavily influence the interpretation. These personal characteristics include attitudes, personality, motives, interests, experiences and expectations.
The Target: the characteristics of the target being observed can also affect what’s perceived. Loud people are more likely than quiet people to be noticed in a group. So, too, are extremely attractive or unattractive individuals. Because targets aren’t looked at in isolation, the relationship of a target to its background also influences perception, as does our tendency to group close things and similar things together.
The Situation: the context in which we see objects or events is also important. The time at which an object or event is seen can influence attention, as can location, light, heat, color, and any number of other situational factors.
Attribution theory was developed to explain how we judge people differently depending on the meaning we attribute to a given behavior. Basically, the theory suggests that when we observe an individual’s behavior, we attempt to determine whether it was internally or externally caused. Internally caused behaviors are those that are believed to be under the personal control of the individual. Externally caused behavior results from outside factors; that is, the person is forced into the behavior by the situation. The determination, however, depends on three factors: distinctiveness, consensus, and consistency.