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What Are the Characteristics of Perception?

By Angela Farrer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The characteristics of perception are sensation, organization, interpretation, and categorization of input according to past experiences. The process of sensory perception takes place very quickly in the human brain, usually within less than one second. Different types of perception are possible through the complex activity of the nervous system that receives input from each of the five senses. This input then converts to signals that travel to the brain via the spinal cord as well as the peripheral nervous system. Each of the characteristics of perception is both a physical process and a subjective experience according to different personalities, biases, and backgrounds.

Sensation is a main characteristic of perception as it relates to outside input. Auditory perception takes place when the ears detect sounds and carry this perceptual information to the brain. Organization takes place when listeners identify the type of sound and compare it to other sounds heard in 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 want to keep listening. All of these choices are made within fractions of seconds and can take place hundreds of times per day with many kinds of sensory input.

The process of visual perception follows the same principles as those of auditory perception. Input that reaches the brain through the eyes is an important part of how people make sense of the world around them. Psychologists who study the characteristics of perception often report that people form a complete picture of reality as they see it rather than a completely objective view. Sections of their brains devoted to perceptual skills draw comparisons between current and past sensory input. These sets of brain cells are also responsible for forming questions and drawing conclusions based on current levels of understanding.

Factors that influence perception can include existing education levels, intelligence, and preconceived notions about certain subject matter. When people interpret sensory input, they typically form ideas that can be considered long- or short-sighted depending on prior familiarity and experience with similar types of input. This characteristic of perception is tied to the process of learning. When people study a great deal about a subject with close attention, their subsequent interpretation and categorization of that topic can change when they encounter new related input. This kind of learning experience is considered instrumental when it comes to refining subjective perceptual skills.

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Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Jan 16, 2013

@ZipLine-- It's not that bad! How we perceive things is not set in stone. It can be changed if we try!

By ZipLine — On Jan 15, 2013

@donasmrs-- That's a good question. I'm not sure but I think that it must be a combination of both-- genetics and experiences.

What I do know is that a lot of these processes take place subconsciously. For example, with interpretations, we do this automatically without even realizing. My professor said that when we meet people, we establish a perception about them within a matter of minutes. We categorize people based on their various characteristics during a brief encounter.

It's kind of sad actually. This means that before we really get to know anyone, we have a certain idea about them. It's kind of like judging but we're not even aware that we're doing it.

By donasmrs — On Jan 15, 2013

It's really interesting to me that sensations can be subjective. I know that people who experience the same thing can interpret it in different ways. But it seems like sensations wouldn't be open to interpretation.

Is there anything genetic about this or is it completely based on experiences? I mean, is it possible that everyone is born with a brain that works slightly differently leading to different perception?

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