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Perception in Communication

In living our lives and communicating with each other our perception of reality is less important than reality itself. Some would argue that there IS no ultimate reality, only the illusion of our perceptions.

Our perceptions are influenced by:
  1. physical elements -- what information your eye or ear can actually take in, how your brain processes it.
  2. environmental elements -- what information is out there to receive, its context.
  3. learned elements -- culture, personality, habit: what filters we use to select what we take in and how we react to it.
    (from Marshall Singer's work)

For example, color blind people will not perceive "red" the way as other people do. Those with normal vision may physically see "red" similarly, but will interpret it culturally:

  • red meaning "stop" or "anger" or "excitement" or "in debt" (US)
  • red meaning "good fortune" (China)
  • red meaning your school's colors

Selective Attention

The world deluges us with sensory information every second. Our mind produces interpretations and models and perceptions a mile a minute. To survive, we have to select what information we attend to and what we remember.

Information that attracts our attention

  • Sends out strong physical stimulus: contrast, blinking, loudness, etc.
  • Elicits emotion -- TV dramas, memory aid: when taking notes on an article, write your emotional response to it
  • Is unexpected? (This may draw your attention or conversely, you may miss it entirely with your mind filling in the missing pieces you expected to receive.)
  • Fits a pattern
  • Previous knowledge that gives it context
  • Interests you
  • Connects to basic needs (belonging, sex, danger, hunger...)
  • Is useful.

Note how important your cultural filters will be in determining the answers to these questions--what hooks your emotions? What is "normal" and what is "unexpected", etc.

Test yourself! Here are some fun videos about attention and perception:

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