Chapter 3 I. What Is Perception?
Perception is the process of interpreting the messages of our senses to provide order and
meaning to the environment. Among the most important perceptions that influence
organizational behaviour are the perceptions that organizational members have of each other.
II. Components of Perception
Perception has three components – a perceiver, a target that is being perceived, and some
situational context in which the perception is occurring.
A. The Perceiver
The perceiver's experience, motives, and emotions can affect his or her perceptions.
1.Experience. One of the most important influences on perception is experience - our
past experiences lead us to develop expectations and these affect current
perceptions - differences in perception caused by experience can lead to problems
2.Motivational State. Differences in our needs at a given moment and our motivational
state can also be a source of conflict within organizations, since our motivational
states influence our perception and interpretation of events.
3.Emotional State. Emotional state refers to the particular emotions that an individual
feels at a given time. Emotions such as anger, happiness, or fear can and do affect
our perceptions. In some cases we employ a perceptual defence which occurs
when our perceptual system serves to defend us against unpleasant emotions. In
general, we tend to "see what we want to see."
B. The Target
Our perceptions are also influenced by the target's social status and ambiguity. Ambiguity or
lack of information about a target leads to a greater need for interpretation and addition.
C. The Situation
The context of the situation can greatly influence our perceptions by adding information about
III. Social Identity Theory
According to social identity theory, people form perceptions of themselves based on their
characteristics and memberships in social categories. Our sense of self is composed of a
personal identity and a social identity. Our personal identity is based on our unique personal
characteristics, such as our interests, abilities, and traits. Social identity is based on our
perception that we belong to various social groups, such as our gender, nationality, religion,
occupation, and so on. Personal and social identities help us answer the question, “Who am I?”
We categorize ourselves and others to make sense of and understand the social environment.
Once a category is chosen, we tend to see members of that category as embodying the most
typical attributes of that category, or what are called “prototypes.” Further, people tend to
perceive members of their own social categories in more positive and favourable ways than
those who are different and belong to other categories.
IV. A Model of the Perceptual Process Psychologist Jerome Bruner has developed a model of perception that deals with how we
select cues in our interpretations and how this leads to perceptual constancy and consistency
once we have formed our opinions. According to Bruner, when the perceiver encounters an
unfamiliar target, the perceiver is very open to the informational cues contained in the target
and the situation surrounding it. In this unfamiliar state, the perceiver really needs
information on which to base perceptions of the target and will actively seek out cues to
resolve this ambiguity. Gradually, the perceiver encounters some familiar cues that enable her
to make a crude categorization of the target. At this point, the cue search becomes less open
and selective. The perceiver begins to search out cues that confirm the categorization of the
target. As this categorization becomes stronger, the perceiver actively ignores or even distorts
cues that violate initial perceptions. Thus, perception becomes more selective and the
perceptual system begins to paint a constant and consistent picture of the target.
V. Basic Biases in Person Perception
The impressions that we form of others are susceptible to a number of perceptual biases.
A. Primacy and Recency Effects
We form our impressions of others fairly quickly. One reason for this is the primacy effect,
which is the tendency for a perceiver to rely on early cues or first impressions. Another reason
is the recency effect, which is the tendency for a perceiver to rely on recent cues or last
B. Reliance on Central Traits
We tend to organize our perceptions of others around the presence of certain traits or personal
characteristics of a target that are of particular interest to us. This concept is called reliance on
central traits and it can have a very powerful influence on our perceptions of others.
C. Implicit Personality Theories
Each of us has an implicit personality theory about which personality characteristics go
together. For example, we might assume that hard workers are all honest or that slow workers
are not very bright.
The tendency to attribute one's own thoughts and feelings to others is called projection. If
we are always honest, for example, we often assume that others are too.
The assumption that people have certain characteristics by virtue of the category they fall into
is known as stereotyping. It is the tendency to generalize about people in a social category
and ignore variations among them. Thus we might assume that all scientists are bright and
that all football players are ignorant. Since most stereotyping is inaccurate, it is best to obtain
information about targets before jumping to conclusions.
VI. Attribution: Perceiving Causes and Motives
Attribution is the process by which causes or motives are assigned to explain other people's
behaviour. Dispositional attributions suggest that some personality characteristic or
intellectual characteristic unique to the person is responsible for the behaviour. Situational attributions suggest that the external situation or environment in which the target person
exists was responsible for the behaviour.
People rely on external cues to make inferences about the causes of people’s behaviour.
Research indicates that as we gain experience with the behaviour of a target person, these
cues guide our decisions as to whether we should attribute the behaviour to dispositional or
A. Consistency Cues
Consistency cues reflect how consistently a person engages in some behaviour over time.
We tend to perceive behaviour that a person performs regularly as indicative of his or her true
B. Consensus Cues
Consensus cues reflect how a person’s behaviour compares to that of others. In general,
acts which deviate from social expectations provide us with more information about the actor's
motives than conforming behaviours do.
C. Distinctiveness Cues
Distinctiveness cues reflect the extent to which a person engages in some behaviour across
a variety of situations. When a person’s behaviour occurs across a variety of situations and
lacks distinctiveness we are prone to make a dispositional attribution about its cause.
D. Attribution in Action
We often have information at hand about consistency, consensus, and distinctiveness, and we
tend to use this information whenever we judge people and their behaviour. High consistency,
low consensus, and low distinctiveness results in a dispositional attribution. High consistency,
high consensus, and high distinctiveness results in a situational attribution.
E. Biases in Attribution
Despite our best efforts in attributing and interpreting behaviour, several errors and biases
can occur in the attribution process.
Fundamental Attribution Error. When judging the behaviour of people other than
ourselves, we tend to overemphasize dispositional explanations for behaviour at the
expense of situational explanations. This is called the fundamental attribution
Actor-Observer Effect. Actors and observers often view the causes for the actor’s
behaviour very differently. Actors tend to emphasize the situation while observers
emphasize dispositons. This difference in attributional perspectives is called the
Self-Serving Bias. The tendency to take credit for successful outcomes and to deny
responsibility for failures is called the self-serving bias.
VII. Person Perception and Workforce Di