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Perception and Attention in Examples

The Perceptual Process

Perception entails the processes of selection, organization, interpretation, and response to stimuli gathered from the surrounding environments through the five senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2007, p. 70). Additionally, perception utilizes the cognitive processes involved in information processing. Accordingly, perception occurs in a series of steps referred to as the perceptual process, which include; the environmental stimulus, the attended stimulus, the image on the retina, transduction, neural processing, perception, recognition, and finally, action.

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The perceptual process is continuous, and it may occur unconsciously and automatically (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2007, p. 71). Each step in the perceptual process serves different purposes, for example, the environmental stimulus stage provides a wide range of stimuli, which attract the attention of the perceiver through different senses. The attended stimulus entails a specific object within the perceiver’s environment upon which attention has been focused on. After the perceiver has focused attention on a specific object, an image is formed on the retina to allow the visual information to be transmitted to subsequent stages (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2007, pp. 71-75).

Subsequently, the inverted image on the retina undergoes transformation to generate electrical signals through the process of transduction before the signals can be transmitted to the brain for interpretation. Depending on the type of signal transmitted (audio or visual), the electrical signals are subjected to different mechanisms of neural processing in the brain. Accordingly, neural processing allows the perceiver to perceive the specific object in the surrounding environment.

By becoming aware of the object, the perceiver needs to categorize, interpret, and give meaning to the perceived object through the process of recognition. Finally, after recognizing the object, the perceiver will respond to the stimuli by acting according to the prevailing circumstances, and thus, marking the end of a cycle in the perceptual process (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2007, pp. 75-78).

The relationship between perception and attention

Over the years, researchers have employed different behavioral paradigms to investigate the mechanisms of attention influencing different cognitive processes including perceptual awareness. Here, it is important to note that attention is necessary for the selection and inhibition of visual information relative to time and space (Goldstein, Humphreys, Shiffrar, & Yost, 2004, p. 297). Therefore, when addressing the question of when or whether an object is perceived, a researcher may wish to question the effect of attention on the perceived object’s color, location, or brightness. Early research documented that attention serves to increase the perceived object’s intensity and clarity (Goldstein et al., 2004, p. 297).

However, contemporary studies tend to disagree with these findings by noting that the effect of attention on the perceived clarity or intensity is inconsistent and limited to the veridicality of the object’s color or location (Goldstein et al., 2004, p. 297). Either way, additional studies document that attention influences the perception of ambiguous stimuli. Through the use of ambiguous motion displays, researchers have shown that attention facilitates the perceiver’s ability to follow moving objects (Goldstein et al., 2004, p. 297).

On the other hand, Linnell and Caparros (2011, p. 1643) note that selective spatial attention reduces the effect of distracting information during perception by ensuring that all the perceptual resources are directed to the location of interest. Moreover, by manipulating the perceiver’s perception mechanisms involved in gaze perception using different gaze adaption paradigms, Bayliss, Barlett, Naughtin, and Kritikos (2011, pp. 634-644) have demonstrated that there is a direct relationship between specific gaze perception mechanisms and their relevant attention mechanisms. Overall, the relationship between perception and attention varies depending on the behavioral paradigms used in measuring the two variables.

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Bayliss, A.P., Barlett, J., Naughtin, C.K., & Kritikos, A. (2011). A direct link between gaze perception and social attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology, Human Perception, and Performance, 37(3), 634-644.

Goldstein, B.E., Humphreys, G.W., Shiffrar, M., & Yost, W.A. (2004). Blackwell handbook of sensation and perception. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Hellriegel, D., & Slocum, J.W. (2007). Organizational behavior. Mason, OH: Thomson Higher Education.

Linnell, K.J., & Caparos, S. (2011). Perceptual and cognitive load interact to control the spatial focus of attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology, Human Perception, and Performance, 37(5), 1643-1648.

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