Perception (A complete guide)

Perception is the subjective method of acquiring, decoding, and organizing sensory information

What is Perception?

Perception is sensory information that is organized, interpreted, and consciously experienced.

It involves bottom-up and top-down processing. Bottom-up processing refers to perceptions that are built from sensory input.

However, how we understand sensations is influenced by our knowledge, our experiences, and our thoughts.

This is often called top-down processing.

Sensations are a physical process, whereas perception is psychological.

There are 5 stages of perception.

Sensation And Perception:

Although our perceptions are built from feelings, not all feelings result in perception.

We do not frequently perceive stimuli remains relatively constant over prolonged periods of your time.

This is often referred to as sensory adaptation. Imagine entering a classroom with a clock.

Upon first entering the space, you will hear the ticking of the clock; as you start a conversation with classmates or hear your professor greet the class, you are not conscious of the ticking.

The clock remains ticking, which remains affecting sensory receptors of the sensory system.

You simply do not perceive the sound anymore, which demonstrates sensory adaptation and shows that while closely associated, sensation and perception are different.

Factors Affecting Perception


One factor that affects sensation and perception is concentration. Attention plays a significant role in determining what is sensed versus what is perceived.

Imagine you are at a celebration filled with music, chatter, and laughter.

You become involved in a stimulating conversation with a friend, and you tune out all the noise.

If someone interrupted you to ask what song had just finished playing, you probably would be unable to answer that question.

In an experiment, researchers tested inattentional blindness by asking participants to watch images moving across a screen.

They were instructed to focus on either white or black objects.  When a Red Cross passed across the screen, one-third of subjects didn’t notice it.


Motivation can also affect perception. Have you ever ever been expecting an essential call and, while taking a shower, you think that you hear the phone ringing, only to discover that it’s not?

If so, you have had an experience when motivation has found a meaningful stimulus that can shift our ability to discriminate between a real sensory stimulus and noise.

The ability to spot a stimulus when it is embedded within a distracting background is called detection theory.

This may additionally explain why a mother is woken up by the cry of her baby, but not by other sounds that occur while she is asleep.

Detection theory has practical applications, like increasing traffic controller accuracy.

Controllers are ready to detect planes among many signals (blips) that appear on the radar screen and follow those planes as they move through the sky.

Our perceptions can also be affected by our beliefs, values, prejudices, expectations, and life experiences.

Individuals who have a lack of sight during critical periods of development have trouble perceiving depth.

The shared experiences of individuals within a given cultural context can have pronounced effects on perception.

Types of Perception:


In some ways, vision is a primary human sense. Light is taken in through each eye and is focused on the retina. 

Some processing of textures and movements occurs within the neurons on the retina, before the information travels to the brain.

In total, about 15 differing kinds of information are then forwarded to the brain via the optic nerve. 


Audition is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations (i.e., sonic detection).

Frequencies capable of being heard by humans are called audio or audible frequencies, the range of which is usually considered to be between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz.

Frequencies above audio are described as ultrasonic, while frequencies below audio are described as infrasonic.

The sensory system includes the outer ears, which collect and filter sound waves; middle ear and the inner ear, which transforms the instantaneous sound pressure.

Thus, the inner ear produces signals in response to the sound.

By the ascending auditory pathway, these are brought to the first auditory area within the temporal lobe of the human brain, from where the auditory information then goes to the cerebral cortex for further processing.

Sound doesn’t usually come from only one source: in real situations, sounds from multiple sources and directions are superimposed as they reach the ears.

Hearing involves the task of separating sources of interest, identifying them and sometimes estimating their distance and direction.


The process of recognizing objects through touch is known as haptic perception.

People can accurately recognize three-dimensional objects by touch.

This involves exploratory procedures, like moving the fingers over the outer surface of the object or holding the whole object in the hand.


Taste (formally referred to as gustation) is the ability to perceive the flavor of certain things, including, but not limited to, food.

Humans receive tastant molecules through organs located on the side of the tongue, called taste buds.

Traditionally, there are four primary tastes: sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and saltiness.

However, the popularity and awareness of umami, which is considered the fifth primary taste, maybe a relatively recent development in Western cuisine.

Other flavors are often mimicked by combining these basic tastes, all of which contribute only partially to the feeling and character of food within the mouth.

Other factors include smell, which is detected by the olfactory epithelium and temperature, which is recognised by thermoreceptors.

All basic tastes are classified as either appetitive or aversive, depending upon whether we perceive it as harmful or beneficial.


The smell is the process of absorbing molecules through olfactory organs, which are taken in by humans through the nose.

These molecules diffuse through a thick layer of mucus; come in contact with one among thousands of cilia that are projected from sensory neurons; and are then able to bind to a receptor (one of 347 or so).

It is this process that allows humans to understand the concept of smell from a physical standpoint.

The concept of smell is also an interactive sense as scientists have begun to understand that olfaction comes into contact with the other sense in unexpected ways.

It is also the most primal of the senses because it is understood to be the primary indicator of safety or danger, therefore being the sense that drives the principal basis of human survival skills.

As such, it is often a catalyst for human behavior on a subconscious and instinctive level.

Social perception:

Social perception is a  part of human perception that permits people to know the individuals and groups of their social world.

Thus, it is a component of social cognition.

Multi-Modal Perception:

Multi-modal perception refers to concurrent stimulation in more than one sensory modality and the resulting effect this has on the perception of events and objects within the world.

Process of Perception:

Three stages of perception process are:

Ø  Selection.

Ø  Organization.

Ø  Interpretation.


The world around us is crammed with an infinite amount of stimuli that we might attend to, but our brain does not have the resources to concentrate on everything at once.

Thus, the first step of perception is the decision of what to attend to.

When we attend to at least one specific thing in our surroundings — whether it is a smell, a feeling, a sound, or something else entirely — it becomes the attended stimulus.

Selecting is first a part of the perception process, during which we focus our attention on certain incoming sensory information.

During selection, we elect stimuli that attract our attention.

We take information through all five of our senses (smell, sight, taste, touch, sound), but our perceptual field includes so many stimuli that it is impossible for our brains to process and add up it all.

These senses affect your perceptions.


Once we’ve chosen to attend to a stimulus within the environment, the selection triggers a series of reactions in our brain.

The neural process begins by the activation of our sensory receptors.

This is the second part of the perception process, through which we categorize information that we perceive and process it through innate and learned cognitive patterns.


After we have attended to a stimulus, and our brains have received and arranged the knowledge, we interpret it during a way that creates sense using our existing information about the planet.

Interpretation simply means we take the experience that we have sensed and arrange and turn it into something that we will categorize and understand.

By putting different stimuli into categories, we can better understand and react to the planet around us.

Perception of others involves sensing, organizing, and interpreting information about people, and what they feel and do.

Within the process of perception, the perceiver should first select what is going to be perceived.

Then, the organization takes place when listeners identify the sound and compare it to other sounds heard within the past.

Interpretation and categorization are generally the most subjective areas of perception, as they involve decisions about whether listeners like what they hear and need to continue listening.

We make immediate evaluations that cause automatic judgments of positive and negative reactions toward others, which occur outside of our awareness.

The processes of selection, organization, and interpretation can be different in different people.

In addition, the meaning of the perception, values, attitudes, behaviour, of the perceiver may differ.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about perception: 

What is perception?

Perception is sensory information that is organized, interpreted, and consciously experienced.

Perception involves both bottom-up and top-down processing. This is often called top-down processing.

A method to consider this idea is that sensation may be a physical process, whereas perception is psychological.

How do you study perceptions?

Of the several neuroimaging methods created to study perception, here is a list of some that are used to identify brain structures involved in perception: conventional radiographs (X-rays), computed tomography (CT), and resonance imaging (MRI).

How is perception formed?

The process of forming a perception begins with your sensory experience of the planet around you.

This stage involves the processing of environmental stimuli provided through your five senses.

You see, hear, smell, taste, or feel stimuli that impact your senses.

Want to learn more about perception?

Sensation and Perception

This book explains how our senses create experiences and how we use those experiences to interact with our environment.

It unravels the complexities of how our five senses work (taste, touch, hearing, seeing, smelling) in a clear way so anyone who reads it is able to understand. 

Understanding the Secrets of Human Perception

This audiobook explains how we perceive the world around us and how our brains use the information sensed by our eyes, ears, skin, tongue, and nose to produce rich sensory experiences in just a few milliseconds.

You will learn to consider each of your senses from multiple perspectives by exposure to different experiments, tests, and demonstrations. 


The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology written by Bonnie B. Strickland

 The Concise Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science by W. Edward Craighead and Charles B. Nemeroff  )

 Perception and the Perceptual Process. October 15th, 2019.