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What You Don't Know: The Perception Gap

Mohan is a family physician and a Postgraduate Associate Dean working in the UK. He has a keen interest in self-regulated learning.

Read on to learn all about how much your perception of things influences your thought and behavior.

Read on to learn all about how much your perception of things influences your thought and behavior.

The Tyranny of Perception

You looked at the picture above. Your brain recognised a swan. Your brain also noted that it was a painted representation of a swan rather than a real swan itself. Perhaps you also recognised that it was actually a hand posing as a swan with the aid of some clever painting.

All this happened in nanoseconds. By means of light perception, your eyes took in the picture. The image was then transmitted from your retina through the optic nerves to the optical cortex. Here the brain cells quickly processed the image and compared it with your pre-stored catalogue of images and quickly deduced various interpretations. In this instance, for most, these interpretations would be true.

However, in everyday life, what we don't know is how much our perceptions rule our thoughts and actions. What we don't know is how much our perceptions control us even when they are not a true representation of reality1.

Nature never deceives us. It is always we who deceive ourselves.

— Rousseau

The tyranny of perception is what makes us fear a shark attack a lot more than getting into our car—there are a lot more people who have died from the latter than the former. It is what makes us panic and buy radiation protection suits when there is a Japanese nuclear meltdown than invest in a healthy lifestyle—exponentially more people die from a heart attack than from radiation.

It is also the same perception that gives us joy when we collectively 'ooh' and 'aah' at a cute picture, share a musical moment and make a beautifully crafted book a best seller.

Do we trust our perception? Do we train, challenge and grow our ability to perceive well? Or do we fall into the trap of the perception gap where increasingly reality is vanishing into the horizon while our muddled perception rules our minds?

Are the horizontal lines straight or crooked? Optical illusions play with our perceptions.

Are the horizontal lines straight or crooked? Optical illusions play with our perceptions.

The reality as we perceive it is as much a product of our perception and may be at odds with the reality of another human being.

Reality vs. Perception

All we know about our reality is based on what we perceive—every sound a series of pressure waves that caress our ear drums; every colour a series of electromagnetic signals that bombard our retina.

As our perception is a construction of our mind, our state of mind alters what we perceive. Our perceptions, as much as our motivation and behaviour, are affected by changing states of mind.

Perception influences what we learn and what we know, and it is useful to remember this. Our reality is a product of our perception2. It may well be at odds with the reality of another human being.

This may explain why we may choose to ignore facts and statistics and pay more attention to emotional cues. Emotions may play a large part in why dramatic but rare events portrayed in media may alter our behaviour and risk perception more than facts and figures.

The Amygdala

The Amygdala

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What we don't know is that we feel first and think later.

The Amygdala

Whenever we learn something, this doesn't automatically get converted into long-term memory immediately. It happens over a longer period of time. There exists a part of our brain, called the amygdala, that plays a substantial role in memory consolidation through emotional arousal.

We tend to remember more anything that aroused our emotion rather than a bland learning experience. Even what we learn is influenced by our emotional state3.

The Amygdala, according to neuroscientists, controls 'emotional learning' and 'fear modulation.'

Apparently, what we don't know is that we feel first and think later.

The natural world uses this to its advantage. The elements of camouflage are based on instilling an emotional response and altering perceptions.

The peacock butterfly gives the perception of the eyes of a predator through its natural camouflage

The peacock butterfly gives the perception of the eyes of a predator through its natural camouflage

Passion affects perception. What we sense when we are angry or when we desire is not the same when we observe dispassionately.

Awareness

Being aware that our subjective experience doesn't automatically reflect the objective reality is a valuable skill. It helps us to avoid making hasty judgements.

Passion affects perception. What we see when we are angry or when we desire is not the same when we observe dispassionately. That is why it is easy to see solutions to other people's problems—as a dispassionate observer—than our own.

Being rational retrospectively is easy to do. Being rational 'in the moment' in order not to colour our perceptions is much, much harder4.

Are we aware of the ideas we perceive? Are they dispassionate observations or coloured by fear and desire?

Are we constantly falling into the perception gap?

perspectives-what-you-dont-know-the-perception-gap

Somewhere in the middle—between passion and dispassion, between emotion and apathy—lies the perfect state of perception.

Closing the Gap

We will always be collecting our subjective experiences and emotional responses. That is the human condition.

Closing the perception gap needs us to receive, reflect and respond to ideas while controlling our emotional responses within reason. All too often we may dismiss or embrace an idea as it evokes powerful passions. However, dispassionate machine-like states are not human at all5.

Somewhere in the middle—between passion and dispassion, between emotion and apathy—lies the perfect state of perception.

Our continual journey of exploring this territory is what makes us human.

The illusion of perception

The illusion of perception

References

  1. Schacter, Daniel (2011). Psychology. Worth Publishers. ISBN 9781429237192.
  2. Gregory, Richard. "Perception" in Gregory, Zangwill (1987) pp. 598–601.
  3. Pomerantz, James R. (2003): "Perception: Overview". In: Lynn Nadel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, Vol. 3, London: Nature Publishing Group, pp. 527–537.
  4. "Perception, Attribution, and, Judgment of Others" (PDF). Pearson Education. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  5. Kolb, B., & Whishaw, I.Q. (2003). Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology (5th ed.). Worth Publishers.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Mohan Kumar

Comments

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on March 27, 2013:

@Teaches12345: thank you so much for your visit and comments. As a fellow educator it means a lot that you appreciate the info and presentation.

@Nellianna: thank you so much. I'm glad we share perspectives on perception!

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on March 27, 2013:

Docmo - I am awed by your perspective of perspectives in general and as they define what one doesn't know. We see it a lot alike!

Dianna Mendez on March 19, 2013:

This was a very interesting and educational article on perspectives. Loved all the photo examples and the details on the gap. Thanks for the great information.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on March 18, 2013:

@Pamela99- thank you so much. I'm humbled by such appreciation and understanding. I'm glad I am able to share these ideas here with such wonderful intellects.

@Mary- I know. it is so hard to take emotion out of the equation- after all that's what makes us who we are. But at the same time... I'm always surprised how much such emotions control perception and alters reality! thank you so much.

@Dear Sir Will, really appreciate your visit. I can't wait to get back to hubs soon and sample your story delights that evoke a time and a place so well.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on March 18, 2013:

@Dear Drbj, I can always count on your wonderfully erudite observations - you always 'get' what I try to say. I've been editing my first textbook and had to take a reluctant sabbatical from hubpages for the past few months- trying to keep my links at least once a month through this perspectives series. will be back. soon. Much love and regards.

@Mickey, trust you to pick the lines that convey the whole story in one little nugget. You should be an editor. thank you so much for your visit and comment. As always your summary of perception gap is full of perfect examples and questions.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on March 18, 2013:

@maria- I'll shake my 'philosophical booty' anytime - if it means a nice comment from you. what a great comment. I am glad it provoked some thought. didn't want to mire the piece with too much jargon but hopefully i was able to convey the idea about perceptions. Thank you, my dear!

@livingsta- thank you for your visit and comment. I am glad you liked this piece.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on March 18, 2013:

@ishwaryaa- thank you very much. Writing scientific pieces can be a double edged sword, my other 9 more creative brain) cries out that this could be dry and boring- I am glad it wasn't. appreciate your comments.

@Shauna- yes- it seems we both approached the idea from the same perspective. great minds and all... thank you.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on March 17, 2013:

Vote up and Docmo fascinating!

You are a man of many talents, my friend.

Mary Craig from New York on March 17, 2013:

Controlling our emotional response...hmmm, that's the tough one for sure. How true that what we perceive is not always what is actually what is happening. We can count on you to give us the realist, scientific approach but the best part is we can count on you to do it in an entertaining and interesting manner....love the "swan".

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 17, 2013:

This is another outstanding hub that took the scientific approach to this topic, which is something always I enjoy. I learned some new things with your excellent information. The brain is so fascinating anyway.

I love this statement and find it so true. "Closing the perception gap needs us to receive, reflect and respond to ideas while controlling our emotional responses within reason." Voted up and awesome.

MickeySr from Hershey, Pa. on March 16, 2013:

"The Tyranny of perception is what makes us fear a shark attack a lot more than getting into our car"

This finely crafted statement should stay with us, linger in our minds for a few weeks . . . hopefully we will recognize that as it applies to the functionality of life, the daily business of things like transportation, etc, false perceptions can make things more cumbersome than they need be - but that this same tyranny of perception, as it applies to our heart and relationships, too often causes hurt to those we would claim to love. How many matters of forgiveness, how much harm from bitterness, how often does envy, etc, extinguish selfless love and plunder our hearts leaving hurt where delight ought to reign? It is the assumption that our perceptions are reality that too often makes family members who haven't talked in decades and friends compete rather than support one another.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on March 16, 2013:

Dear Docmo, I look forward to your outstanding hubs because I know I will be rewarded with exceptional and fascinating information. This was no exception. I have long used the example of 'perception' with many subjects taught in seminars and college classes.

In fact, as you are aware, my avatar is an example of perception - does one first view the young woman or the old crone? Perception IS reality. You have reminded us in your usual remarkable fashion. Thank you. Voted Up, of course. So ... where have you been?

livingsta from United Kingdom on March 16, 2013:

An interesting hub Docmo, I did get confused initially looking at the first picture of the Swan, I was a bit slow. Thank you for sharing this with us. Votes up, sharing and pinning!

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 16, 2013:

(oh my, I was cut off, sorry...) reality and emotion and weaving them much like the colorful threads of your well-placed borders in this thought-provoking piece.

I think each Perspective stood very distinctively on its own this month , each quite fascinating on this subject of what is unknown to us.

Voted UP and UABI. Love, Maria

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 16, 2013:

Oh Docmo,

This topic could not help but make our "Resident Wordsmith" shake his Philosophical Booty touting such words as perception and

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 16, 2013:

Doc, this is a fascinating read. You and I were sort of thinking along the same lines this month, although you took the scientific approach, whereas I took the emotional approach.

Awesome hub, my friend!

Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on March 16, 2013:

A thought-provoking & wonderfully written hub! Your reference to images used as examples for this engaging hub of yours is eloquent. Your explaination of perception gap is priceless! Well-done!

Thanks for SHARING. Awesome & Interesting. Voted up & shared both on HubPages & Facebook

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on March 16, 2013:

@Vicki - I sit here reading your comment as morning breaks- I too havent slept through the night! Kindred spirits, across the ocean! Sleep is overrated in my perception too but it is a necessary diversion for our neurons to 'sleep on'. Have a good rest...thank you so much.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on March 16, 2013:

@Martie: thank you so much- I am glad my rambling thoughtburst translates into a 'perfect lecture' in your kind perception. It really is such a great exercise in creating these perspectives and reading my fellow contributors' work. Your perfect summation of such an 'ideas closet' is brilliant!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on March 16, 2013:

@GypsyRoseLee: thank you so much for visiting and your wonderful comment. Selective perception is an act of survival too. We can create the realities we want to.

Vickiw on March 16, 2013:

Docmo, I have been waiting with breathless suspense to read your contribution, and it was well worth the wait! Such an interesting and well- written Hub! I enjoyed it tremendously. I loved the "swan" too. Your facts are so true too. It is helpful to "sleep on it" before making a decision, because sometimes passion can get in the way. By the way, it is 2.12 am as I read and write this, because I am not sleeping well! Sometimes it just seems a waste of time. But that is just my perception. Reality will come when I have to nap tomorrow. I am lying here with my iPad lighting on its dimmest setting, thinking that I have beaten most of these North Americans to comment on your wonderful Hub! Gotta catch some zzzz's now!

Martie Coetser from South Africa on March 16, 2013:

Let me use the superlative of excellent and label this hub 'fantabulous' - a perfect lecture about perception and how it influence our qualification in any department.

Docmo, I have to repeat a comment I have just made in my hub:

This is what I love about HubPages – it is a rich source of perspectives – hooks for our frame of mind. I see my frame of mind as a hall with walls. On the walls I ‘install’ hooks – perceptives – which are supposed to hold my knowledge and wisdom. All my thoughts, awareness, ideas, wishes, believes, hope, etc., have to be on a hook in order for me to understand them and also to use them when necessary, just like the clothes in my closet. I am constantly organizing the things in my closet – this belongs there and that belongs here... I don’t want to waste time searching for an item that is not where it is supposed to be. I must admit I have many hooks on my walls, but all of them are not holding substantial facts and/or ideas of my own. But they are there, ready to become a storage for any new interest I might develop... and also for older once that might be more useful on there."

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on March 15, 2013:

Voted up and interesting. What I don't know I know I will never know but I learn something everyday while researching ideas and looking for inspiration. I know that I want to focus on the good things that are still left in this world and tend to prefer to turn a deaf ear to the bad. I keep the faith and that gets me through each day. Passing this on.

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