People’s behavior and judgment is based on their perception, they don’t see reality it self. They interpret what they see and call it reality. ~ Rahim Poonjani

Read this Article to understand:

- The process of perception
- Internal and external factors, which influence the process of perceptual selection;
- Distinguishing between perception and reality in determining behavior;
- Explain how two people can see the same thing and interpret it differently.
- Identify problems, distortions and bias with particular regard to the perception of people;
- Explain how perception effects the decision-making process
- Assess the perception of women in work situation;
- Examine gender dimensions in organizations and the perception of men and women in the workforce;
- Provide understanding of women’s position and status in the organizational world;
- Recognize the importance of the study of perception and gender;

We all are unique; there is only one Mohammad Hussain Hirji, one Muhammad Memon and there is only one of you. We all have our own ‘world’, our own way of looking at and understanding our environment and the people within it. A situation may be the same but the interpretation of that situation by two individuals may be vastly different. For instance, one person may see product as user-friendly but another person may feel that it is far too simplistic and basic. The physical properties may be identical in term of how they ‘are’, but they are perceived quite differently because each individual has imposed upon the object / environment their own interpretations, their own judgment and evaluation.

* The Perceptual process:

This is a characteristics feature of behavior, which has particularly importance to the manager.

Perception can be defined as a process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. We al see things in different ways. We all have our own, unique picture or image of how to see the ‘real ’ world. Why is it, for example, that a memorandum form management to section head to provide statistics of over-time worked within their section during the past six months and projection for the next six months, can provoke such mixed reactions?

- One section head may set it as a reasonable and welcomed request to provide information which will help lead to improve feature staffing levels.

- Yet, another section head may see it as an unreasonable demand intended only to enable management to exercise closer supervision and control over the activities of the section.

- A third section head may have no objection to providing the information, but is suspicious that it may lead to possible intrusion into the running of the section.

- But the fourth head may see it as appositive action by management to investigate ways of reducing costs and improving efficiency through out the organization.

Each of the section heads perceives the memorandum differently, and as perception becomes their reality of the situation each is likely to react accordingly.

We study the topic to better understand how people make attributions about events. We don’t see reality. We interpret what we see and call it reality. The attribution process guides our behavior, regardless of the truth of the attribution.

* Meaning to the Individual:

Perception is the mental function of giving significance to stimuli such as shapes, colours, movement, taste, sounds, touch, smells, pain, pressures and feeling. Perception give rise to individual behavioural responses to particular situations.

Despite the fact that a group of may ‘physically see’ the same thing, they each have their own version of what is seen – their perceived view of reality.

* Internal and External Factors:

The first stage in the process of perception is selection and attention. Why do we attend to certain stimuli and not to others? There are two important factors to consider in this discussion:

1. Internal Factor – related to the state of the individual
2. External Factor – It concerns the environment and influence external to the individual

The process of perceptual selection is based, therefore, on both internal and external factors.

1. Internal Factors:

Our sensory system have limits, we are not able to see for ‘miles and miles’. Neither we are able to hear very low or very high-pitched sounds. All our senses have specialist nerves, which respond differently to the forms of energy, which are received. For instance, our eyes receive and concert the light waves into electrical signals, which are transmitted to the visual context of the brain and translated into meaning.

Our sensory system is general to respond to changes in the environment. This has particular implications for the way in which we perceived the world and it explains why are able to ignore the humming of the central heating system, but notice instantly a telephone ringing. The term used to describe the way in which we disregard the familiar is ‘habituation’.

- Psychological factor:

Psychological factors will also affect what is perceived. These internal factors such as personality, learning, motives, will give rise to certain ways. This has been called an individual’s perceptual

- Previous experiences:

Learning from previous experiences has a critical effect through out all the stages of the perceptual process. It will affect the stimuli perceived in the first instance, and then the ways in which that stimulus is understood and processed, and finally the response,

2. External Factor:

The knowledge of familiarity with or expectations about, a given situation or previous experiences will influence perception. External factors refer to the nature characteristics of the stimuli. There is usually a tendency to give more attention to stimuli.

Any number of these factors may be presented at a given time or situation. It is therefore, the total pattern of the stimuli together with the context in which they occur that influence perception. For example, it is usually a novel or unfamiliar stimulus that is more of a friend among a group of people all dressed in the same style uniform.

* Perceptual Illusions:

Here are some examples to help you judge your own perceptive skills. In fig. 1.1 try reading aloud the four words.

Fig. 1.1
M – A – C – D – O – N – A – L – D
M – A – C – P – H – E – R – S – O – N
M – A – C – D – O – U – G – A – L – L
M – A – C – H – I –N – E – R – Y

It is possible that you find yourself ‘caught’ in a perceptual set, which means that you tend to pronounce ‘machinery’ as if it too was a Scottish surname.

* Person perception

Perceptual distortions and inaccuracies may not only affect our perception of the environment but also affect our perception of people. Although the process of perception is equally applicable in the perception of objects or people, there is more scope for subjectivity, bias, errors and distortions when we perceive others. The focus of the following section is to examine the perception of people, and to consider the impact this on the management and development of people at work.

The principles and examples of perceptual differences discussed above reflect the way we perceive other people and are the source of any organizational problems. In the work situation the process of perception and the selection of stimuli can influence a manager’s relationship with subordinate staff.

The perception of people’s performance can be affected by the organization of stimuli. In employment interviews, fro examples, interviews are susceptible to contrast effects and the perception of a candidate. Average candidates may be related highly if they follow people with low qualifications, but rated lower when following people with higher qualifications.01

* Difference in Perception:

We have seen the differences in perception result in different people seeing different things and attaching different meanings to the same stimuli. Every person sees things in his or her own way and as perception becomes a person’s reality this can lead to misunderstandings.

The accuracy of inter personal perception and the judgments made about the other people are influenced by:

- The nature of the relationship between the perceiver and he other person;
- The amount of information available to the erceiver and the order in which information is received;
- The nature and extent of interaction between the two people. 02

* Person Perception - Making Judgments About Others:

- Attribution Theory
- When individuals observe behaviour, they attempt to determine whether it is internally or externally caused.
- Fundamental Attribution Error
- The tendency to underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal factors when making judgments about the behaviour of others.
- Self-Serving Bias
- The tendency for individuals to attribute their own successes to internal factors while putting the blame for failures on external factors.

* Organization and Judgement:

The ways which we organize and make judgements about what we have perceived is to a large extent based on our previous experiences and learning. There are cultural differences in the way the body language is perceived and interpreted.

Judgment of other people can also be influenced by perceptions of such stimuli as, for example:

- Role or status;
- Occupation;
- Physical factor and appearance; and
- Body language, for example inference drawn from posture, the extent of eye contact, tone of voice or facial expression

* Perceptual Judgement:

Perceptual judgement applies particularly to perception about other people. ‘Whole’ mental picture tend to organize perception of another person in terms of the reference to related characteristics associated with the person and the attempt to place that person in a complete environment.03

* The dynamics of interpersonal perception:

The dynamics of person perception cannot be overestimated. Unlike the perception of an object which just exists, another individual will react to you and be affected by your behaviour. This interaction is illustrated in the quote below:

You are a pain in the neck and to stop you giving me a pain in the neck I protect my neck by tightening my neck muscles, which gives me the pain in the neck you are. 04

* Perception of Women:

The perception process has been outlined as selective and subjective: we perceive the world in our own term and expect the world to ‘fit’ into our constructs. Throughout our development we have learned to distinguish what is important to significant from informational which is additional and contextual. This process is repeated when we join new organizations or have a new job within the same organization. Fitting into the organization involve seeing information which is necessary from that which is less significant seeing the world in particular way.

* Understanding the organizational process:

Although some organizations may discriminate, it is the view of the authors that perceptions of women are not always calculated: they are often made automatically and without conscious thought – in much the same way as we may be tricked by visual illusions. In fact, perceptual illusions are a very appropriate way of understanding to the organizational process affecting women.05

* Gender Dimensions in Organizations:

The common stereotyping of women draws attention to a particular aspect of people perception in the work organization – that of gender. This section examines the participation of man and women in the workforce, and in particular reviews the position and status of women.

A review of statistical evidence reveals that the place where women work have no changed substantially and remain different in king from male occupations. In essence, women are working in occupations that reflect their perceived role in society, and are generally found servicing and caring for others.06

* Understanding women’s position and status:

Why should man’s and women’s working experiences be so different? Why should the dogma of ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ still prevail? Five explanations are presented. These should not be seen as competitive but all contributing to the understanding of women’s position and status in the organizational world.

- Economic theories.
- Psychological sex difference
- Orientation and motivates towards work.
- Working practices.

* Economic theories:

Two major economic theories seek to explain and predict labour patterns of women’s employment:

- Human Capital Theory; and
- Dual Labour Market Theory

- Human Capital Theory:

The main tent of Human Capital Theory is that to have substantial investment – for example, in education and training.07 Human Capital Theory predicts that women will acquire less schooling and training than men, and will have less time to reap rewards of investment. Whatever skills they had learned will be outdated during their period at home.

- Dual Labour Market Theory:

This argues that the labour market is divided into two separate markets: primary market consisting of jobs with career prospectus, high wages and stable employment; and the secondary market whose jobs are bead-end, low paid and with poor prospectus. Research evidence shows that women, and ethic groups, are over-represented in the secondary market.08

Although these explanations are rich in detail they leave unexplored the origin of women’s roles as looked at by psychologists and sociologists.

* Psychological sex differences:

It is the case that men and women follow different occupational routes because these match their particularly sex type? 09

In their classic review of this subject, there is a difference between males and females in term of visuo-spatial ability, mathematical ability and aggressiveness (male scores higher); and verbal activity (females scores higher). But they also explored a number of myths which surround self differences and concluded there were more similarities than difference between the gender (sexes)10

* Gender shaping:

Gender shaping occurs in education in overt forms of schooling, for example curriculum; and in he ‘hidden’ patterns of behaviour such as teachers’ values and expectations. Evidence indicates that girls traditionally prefer to study humanities rather than science and achieve a higher number of passes in these preferred subjects. Even in newer subjects such as computing, boys have dominated.11 It has also been shown that girls achieved better results in single sex schools, and are more likely to continue their education at further level and in areas normally dominated by men.12

Girls and boys shows different tendencies to report performance and potential: it has been found that girls are more likely to underestimate their own ability’ where as boys overestimate and exaggerate theirs.13

* Orientations and motivations towards work:

It is perhaps salutary to recognize that women workers have tended to be overlooked within many of the classical studies on orientation and motivation. Early studies tended to focus entirely on men.

For example, alban-Metacalfe commented that everyone reading the management literature might well:

Gain the impression that the managerial population is hermaphrodite since the vast majority of studies (which transpire when examined) have been based upon exclusively male samples which are interpreted as if the finding apply equally to female and males.14

* Decision about working:

Although it is seen to be acceptable for woman to say they need the money (and therefore have little choice but to work) such a reason suggested that women do not desire to satisfy their own personal development needs. Thus, women may be seen as not holding work values concerning a high level of organizational commitment. However, if women are seen to be overly ambitions then they must be neglecting their primary role in society as a woman.

Some writers claim that men and women’s motivations are the same, although there is partial support for the nation that women perceive their career differently and have a different sense of time.15

* End notes and references:

01 Wexley, K.N., Yuki, G.A., Kovacs, S.Z. and Sanders, R.E. ‘Importance of Contrast Effects in Employee Interview’, journal of applied Psychology, 56, 972, pp. 45-48.
02 Krech, D., Crutchfeild, R.S. and Ballachey, E.L. individual in society, McGraw-Hill (1962)
03 Wilson, P.R. ’Perceptual Distortion of height as a Function of Ascribed Academic Status’, Journal of social psychology, no 74, 1968, pp 97-102.
04 Laing, R. D. knots. Penguin (1971) p. 30
05 Ames, A. ‘Visual perception and the rotating Trapezoidal Window’, psychological Monographs, vol. 6, no. 7 1951.
06 Hansard Society Commission Report, Women at the top, The Hansard Society, 1990.
07 Amsden. A. (ed.) Papers in the Economics of Women and work Penguin (1980).
08 Loveridge, R and Mok, A. ‘Theoretical Approaches to Segmented Labour Markets’, International Journals of Social Economics, no. 7, 1980.
09 Gross, R.D. Psychology: The Science of Mind Behaviour, Edward Arnold (1987).
10 Donelson, E. Sex Differences in Developmental perspective, Homewood Learning System, 1975.
11 Newton, P. ‘Computing: An ideal Occupation for Women’ in Cozens, J. F. and west, M. (eds) women at work, Open University Press (1988).
12 Shaw, J. ‘Finishing School: Some Interpretation of Sex-Segregation Education’, in Barker, D.L. and Allen, S. (eds) Sexual Division and Society: Process and Change, Tavistock (1976).
13 Rosenkrantz, P., Vogel, S., Bee, H and Brovermen, D. ‘Sex Role Stereotypes and self-Concepts in College students’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical psychology, 32, 1968, pp. 287-295.
14 Alban-Metcalfe, B. ‘Attitudes to work: Comparison by Gender and Sector of Employment’, The Occupational Psychologist, no. 3, December 1987, p. 8.
15 Marshall.J. op. cit.
* Robbins, S. P (1991) ‘Perception and Individual decision making’, pp 125-137; perntice Hall Englewood Cliffe, New Jersey.
* Mullins, L., J. (1998) ‘The Process of perception’ pp 129 – 164 Pitman publishing; London

Author's Bio: 

About the Author

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Rahim Poonjani is a Volunteer, in Aga Khan University - Institute for Educational Development. He is interested, as a researcher in Management Sciences and Human Resource Management. He can be reached at (Home) (092) 021-7232846 / (work) (092) 0216347611-14, Fax 092-021-6347616 or e-mailed at