Perception is a process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. However, what one perceives can be substantially different from objective reality. There need not be, but there is often disagreement. For example, itâ€™s possible that all employees in a firm may view it as a great place to workâ€”favorable working conditions, interesting job assignments, good pays, excellent benefits, an understanding and responsible managementâ€”but, as most of us known, itâ€™s very unusual to find such agreement.
Why is perception important in the study of OB? Simply because peopleâ€™s behavior is based on their perception of what reality is, not on reality itself. The world as it is perceived is the world that is behaviorally important.
Factors Influencing Perception
How do we explain that individuals may look at the same thing, yet perceive it differently? A number of factors operate to shape and sometimes distort perception. These factors can reside in the perceiver, in the object or target being perceived, or in the context of the situation in which the perception is made.
When an individual looks at a target and attempts to interpret what he or she sees, that interpretation is heavily influenced by the personal characteristics of the individual perceiver. Personal characteristics that affect perception include a personâ€™s attitudes, personality, motives, interests, past experiences, and expectations. For instance, if you expect police officers to be authoritative, young people to be lazy, or individuals holding public office to be unscrupulous you may perceive them as such regardless of their actual traits.
Characteristics of the target being observed can affect what is perceived. Loud people more likely to be noticed in a group than quiet ones. So, too, are extremely attractive or unattractive individuals, Because targets are not looked at in isolation, the relationship of a target to its background also influences perception, as does our tendency to group close things and similar things together. For instance, women, people of color, or member of any other group than has clearly distinguishable characteristics in terms of features or color are often perceived as alike in other, unrelated characteristics as well.
The context in which we see objects or events is also important. The time at which an object or event is seen can influence attention, as can location, light, heat, or any number of situational factors. One may not notice a 22-year-old female in an evening gown and heavy make-up at a nightclub on Saturday night. Yet that same woman so attired for Monday morning management class would certainly catch the same personâ€™s attention (and that of the rest of the class) Neither the perceiver nor the target changed between Saturday night and Monday morning, but the situation is different.