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What Is Object Perception?

By Jamie Nedderman
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Object perception is a process where things seen are assigned a definition in the mind. People then use the interpretation to interact in the environment. Although much knowledge of the world may be obtained from other sources, information originates from object perception. Perception is gained by using the five senses to break down the stimuli and fit it into what is already known. Many theories exist to provide understanding as to why the object is perceived as it is.

The ventral visual pathway is the name of the stages that the object follows through the brain before becoming part of one's perceptive history. The object is experienced with the five senses, then recognized as familiar or unrecognized, and then analyzed. This is completed while not interrupting other visual functions. In other words, an individual may see a billboard while driving, and the billboard images are processed without causing the vehicle to leave the roadway or strike other vehicles.

Theories of object perception differ; direct realism embraces the obvious fact that the object exists independently from the perceiver. Two types of direct realism — naive realism and scientific realism — offer more in-depth theories. When the object is not being observed, a naive realist believes that the object retains all of the same properties as when observed, while a scientific realist does not. The scientific realist thinks that some properties exist based on the prior experiences of the perceiver. For example, a blanket may be brighter in color to one person than another.

Indirect realists also believe in a separation between the perceiver and object, but go further in that what people see is based on objects already seen. For example, steam from a plate of food takes a small amount of time to be absorbed by the senses, so the steam is being seen based on that span of time in the past when it was first perceived, and the sight then is based on what the steam is expected to do. Another example is a stick in water; the water may make the stick appear bent due to refraction, but prior knowledge of the stick does not cause perception to be changed.

Phenomenalism is an object perception theory in which other items exist when not perceived, because the possibility of perception exists. For example, even if an ice cube is not put on a hot stove, the perceiver knows that the ice cube will melt if placed there based on what is already known. Another example is when someone goes directly to a particular drawer for a spoon; because spoons have traditionally been kept in that drawer in the past, that drawer is the most likely place to find a spoon.

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Discussion Comments

By literally45 — On Nov 03, 2014

There is a theory called the Gestalt theory which says that we perceive the whole of a thing, rather than individual objects. Like we perceive an entire room, rather than the couch, the chair and the table in it. If this is true, how does object perception fit into it?

By serenesurface — On Nov 02, 2014

@discographer-- I think you've understood it correctly. You are absolutely right about object perception being an efficient way of processing information. The process is actually far more detailed than we realize and happens very quickly. It's a process that takes place thanks to the coordination between our vision and brain. Our eyes take in the information and the brain processes it and if possible labels it with a label it has already formed.

So it sort of works like this. We see a cube. Our eyes send in the information on various levels. For example, there is information sent to the brain about the size of the cube, the shape of the cube, the colors and the textures. Our brain processes it and says "oh, it's a cube" because it has seen it before and it had formed a label for it.

What's interesting though, is that we can identify objects even if we haven't seen or touched them before based on what we know about them. For example, I might have never seen a boomerang but may be able to identify it based on what I know about it because I have read of it in various books.

By discographer — On Nov 02, 2014

So if I've understood this right, like other perceptions, object perception also relies on our previous experiences. We define and understand things partly based on our experience with that object before.

It almost seems like a shortcut, a way for the brain to make object perception more easy, quick and efficient. Instead of observing and processing the object all over again, it quickly identifies the ones it has seen before and moves on. It's very interesting, fascinating actually.

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