Concepts of Perceptions and Behaviour


It has long been said that perception is reality, and in many ways it is. Perception is about what we take in and what we make out of it. The study of Perception is concerned with describing the way people see, organize and interpret sensory information. Perception is the process of receiving information about and making sense of the world around us. People’s perceptions influence how they behave in their organization. Accurate perception allows employees to interpret what they see and hear in the workplace effectively to make decisions, complete tasks and act in ethical manner. Faulty perceptions lead to problems in the organization, such as stereotyping, that lead people to erroneously make assumptions.

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Perception includes our five senses i.e. touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing. It also involves the cognitive processes required to process information, such as recognizing the face of a family member or tasting a familiar food. The perceptual process is a sequence of steps that begins with the environment and leads to our perception of a stimulus and an action in response to the stimulus. Most of the perception process takes place subconsciously.

However what we perceive can be substantially different from objective reality. For example, if we are living in a foreign land, we may be happy about the services we are able to use. But this may not be true for some other person. This is due to the difference in our ways of thinking.

Components of perception:

Perception has three components – a perceiver, a target that is being perceived, and some situation in which the perception is occurring.

1. The Perceiver: The perceiver’s experience, motives, and emotions can affect his or her perceptions.

i) Experience: One of the most important influences on perception is experience – our past experiences lead us to develop expectations which in turn affect current perceptions. Differences in perception caused by experience can lead to problems within organizations.

ii) Motivational State: Our motivational states influence our perception and interpretation of events. So differences in our needs at a given moment and our motivational state can also be a source of conflict within organizations.

iii) 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.

2. The Target: Our perceptions are also influenced by the target’s social status. We often wrongly interpret about the target due to lack of information.

3. The Situation: The situations we are and we have been present in greatly influence our perceptions by adding information about the target.

Basic Biases in Person Perception:

The impressions that we form of others are susceptible to a number of perceptual biases.

1. 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 impressions.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Projection:

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.

5. Stereotyping:

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.

6. Cultural Difference: Cultural Differences can also influence the perception of an individual in the workplace. For example, Indian workers place a stress on the relationship amongst the colleagues and higher management. On the other hand American workers stress on time management and directness between the senior management and the labour.

Minimizing Bias:

Minimizing biases that distort attribution can help foster effective team work. Using tips, techniques, tools and resources available from websites such as the Cultural Navigator site, organizations can reduce the rate at which people selectively interpret events based on their experience, background and attitudes. One technique may be perceived employability (PE; i.e. the worker’s perception about available job opportunities) which is portrayed as the upcoming resource for workers and organizations. However, organizations might particularly want to stimulate perceptions of job opportunities on the internal labour market (i.e. internal PE). In contrast, they may be hesitant in stimulating perceptions of job opportunities on the external labour market (i.e. external PE), as this might foster workers’ voluntary turnover. The contextual influences adding to these different types of PE are relatively unknown. Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist, observed that perception of one trait is influenced by other traits. Known as the halo effect, this bias causes people to judge people they find attractive as smart. Providing training to managers to make more accurate perceptions helps them conduct more effective employment interviews, performance reviews and daily management tasks.

Managing Perceptions:

When people in organizations find themselves in unfamiliar, ambiguous situations, they tend to have difficulty coping Employability is generally seen as the employee’s ability to retain a job or to get another job. Ongoing changes in the market e.g. restructurings, mergers and downsizings have made jobs more volatile, which heightened the need for workers to be employable in order to achieve sustained employment. Along this view, studies have focused upon individual factors that may enhance the workers’ employability. Effective business professionals handle objections to their ideas by clearly stating the benefits of their position to all parties. By presenting a compelling case for their ideas, these people get approval for their proposed strategy even if opposed by apathy or confrontation. By actively recognizing people’s perceptions and attributions, effective leaders build justifications for their approach and get support when needed.

Explaining Behaviour:

Values are considered critical aspects for individuals’ motivation. They serve as general standards or criteria that determine individuals’ attitudes, preferences and behaviours. Values may therefore also prime the type of employment opportunities individuals strive for and perceive. People tend to evaluate other people on their ability, effort or personality. They also attribute luck or the difficulty of task to a success or failure. The attributions people make for their own behaviour also influence their performance in the organization. For example, successful workers who succeed at tasks after completing training exercises usually increase their confidence levels. Those who fail may consider themselves unlucky or blame others. People’s perceptions and judgment of another person’s action depend on if reactions occur consistently or inconsistently. Recognizing that people have cultural beliefs, motives and intentions helps explain behaviour and helps rectify non-productive situations. By understanding the common causes of behaviour, individuals can react more appropriately. Workers may see their organization as stressing the importance of intrinsic values when it applauds signs of social support enhancing emotional intimacy, stimulates social charity or extra-role behaviour to strengthen community contribution. This may surely lead those workers into working more diligently.

Perceptions of Trust and Organizational Support:

Trust refers to a willingness to be vulnerable and to take risks with respect to the actions of another party. To trust means to believe in the other person. Trust perceptions toward management are based on three distinct perceptions:

  1. Ability: it refers to employee perceptions regarding management’s competence and skills.
  2. Benevolence: it refers to the extent that employees perceive management as caring and concerned for their interests, and willing to do good for them.
  3. Integrity: it refers to employee perceptions that management adheres to and behaves according to a set of values and principles that employees find acceptable.

The combination of these three factors influences perceptions of trust.

Perceived organizational support (POS) refers to employees’ general belief that their organization values their contribution and cares about their well-being. The main factors that contribute to POS are supervisor support, fairness, organizational rewards, and job conditions. POS is related to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, a positive mood, performance, reduced strains, and lower absenteeism and turnover. Supportive human resource practices that demonstrate an investment in employees and recognition of employee contributions are most likely to lead to the development of greater POS.

Studies Conducted on Perception

There have been many studies done on Perception. Some of them are:

1. Self-Perception Theory

Self-perception theory (SPT) is an account of attitude formation developed by psychologist Daryl Bem. It asserts that people develop their attitudes (when there is no previous attitude due to a lack of experience, etc. and the emotional response is ambiguous) by observing their own behaviour and concluding what attitudes must have caused it. The theory suggests that people induce attitudes without accessing internal cognition and mood states. The person interprets their own overt behaviours rationally in the same way they attempt to explain others’ behaviours.

The Experiment:

In an attempt to decide whether individuals induce their attitudes as observers without accessing their internal states, Bem used interpersonal simulations, in which an “observer-participant” is given a detailed description of one condition of a cognitive dissonance experiment. Subjects listened to a tape of a man enthusiastically describing a tedious peg-turning task. Some subjects were told that the man had been paid $20 for his testimonial and another group was told that he was paid $1. Those in the latter condition thought that the man must have enjoyed the task more than those in the $20 condition. Because the observers, who did not have access to the actors’ internal cognition and mood states, were able to infer the true attitude of the actors, it is possible that the actors themselves also arrive at their attitudes by observing their own behaviour. Specifically, Bem notes how “the attitude statements which comprise the major dependent variables in dissonance experiments may be regarded as interpersonal judgments in which the observer and the observed happen to be the same individual.”

Further evidence:

There are numerous studies conducted by psychologists that support the self-perception theory, demonstrating that emotions do follow behaviours. For example, it is found that corresponding emotions (including liking, disliking, happiness, anger, etc.) were reported following from their overt behaviours, which had been manipulated by the experimenters. These behaviours included making different facial expressions, gazes and postures. In the end of the experiment, subjects inferred and reported their affections and attitudes from their practiced behaviours despite the fact that they were told previously to act that way.

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Evidence for the self-perception theory has also been seen in real life situations. After teenagers participated in repeated and sustained volunteering services, their attitudes were demonstrated to have shifted to be more caring and considerate towards others.

2. Gregory (1970) and Top Down Processing

For Gregory, perception involves making inferences about what we see and trying to make a best guess. Prior knowledge and past experience, he argued, are crucial in perception.

For Gregory perception is a hypothesis. When we look at something, we develop a perceptual hypothesis, which is based on prior knowledge. The hypotheses we develop are nearly always correct. However, on rare occasions, perceptual hypotheses can be disconfirmed by the data we perceive.

3. Gibson (1966) and Bottom Up Processing

Gibson argued strongly against the idea that perception involves top-down processing. James Gibson (1966) argues that perception is direct, and not subject to hypotheses testing as Gregory proposed. There is enough information in our environment to make sense of the world in a direct way. For Gibson: sensation is perception: what you see is what you get. There is no need for processing (interpretation) as the information we receive about size, shape and distance etc. is sufficiently detailed for us to interact directly with the environment.

4. Extrasensory Perception

Extrasensory perception or ESP includes reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses but sensed with the mind. The term was adopted by Duke University psychologist J. B. Rhine to denote psychic abilities such as telepathy, clairaudience, and clairvoyance, and their trans-temporal operation as precognition or retro cognition. ESP is also sometimes referred to as a sixth sense. The term implies acquisition of information by means external to the basic limiting assumptions of science, such as that organisms can only receive information from the past to the present.

The Experiment:

One of the first statistical studies of ESP, using card-guessing, was conducted by Ina Jephson, in the 1920s. She reported mixed findings across two studies. More successful experiments were conducted with procedures other than card-guessing. G.N.M. Tyrrell used automated target-selection and data-recording in guessing the location of a future point of light. Whateley Carington experimented on the paranormal cognition of drawings of randomly selected words, using participants from across the globe. J. Hettinger studied the ability to retrieve information associated with token objects.

In the 1960s, in line with the development of cognitive psychology and humanistic psychology, parapsychologists became increasingly interested in the cognitive components of ESP, the subjective experience involved in making ESP responses, and the role of ESP in psychological life. Memory, for instance, was offered as a better model of psi than perception. This called for experimental procedures that were not limited to Rhine’s favoured forced-choice methodology. Free-response measures, such as used by Carington in the 1930s, were developed with attempts to raise the sensitivity of participants to their cognitions. These procedures included relaxation, meditation, REM-sleep, and the Ganzfeld (a mild sensory deprivation procedure). These studies have proved to be even more successful than Rhine’s forced-choice paradigm, with meta-analyses evidencing reliable effects, and many confirmatory replication studies.

Parapsychological investigation of ESP:

The study of psi phenomena such as ESP is called parapsychology. A great deal of reported extrasensory perception is said to occur spontaneously in conditions which are not scientifically controlled. Such experiences have often been reported to be much stronger and more obvious than those observed in laboratory experiments. These reports, rather than laboratory evidence, have historically been the basis for the widespread belief in the authenticity of these phenomena. However, it has proven extremely difficult (perhaps impossible) to replicate such extraordinary experiences under controlled scientific conditions.

The main current debate concerning ESP surrounds whether or not statistically compelling laboratory evidence for it has already been accumulated. The most accepted results are all small to moderate statistically significant results. Critics may dispute the positive interpretation of results obtained in scientific studies of ESP, as they claim they are difficult to reproduce reliably, and are small in effect. Parapsychologists have argued that the data from numerous studies show that certain individuals have consistently produced remarkable results while the remainder have constituted a highly significant trend that cannot be dismissed even if the effect is small.


Among scientists in the National Academy of Sciences, 96% described themselves as “sceptical” of ESP; 4% believed in psi. Among all scientists surveyed, 10% felt that parapsychological research should be encouraged. The National Academy of Sciences had previously sponsored the Enhancing Human Performance report on mental development programs, which was critical of parapsychology. Sceptics claim that there is a lack of a viable theory of the mechanism behind ESP, and that there are historical cases in which flaws have been discovered in the experimental design of parapsychological studies.


Perception is the process we perceive everything in our surroundings. For this a number of factors come into play which may reside in the perceiver, the object or the situation.

We actually interpret many qualities being influenced by our personal characteristics without even thinking about the actual traits of others. Even the different Perception Theories are not valid in all cases since every individual is unique in nature.

So in the end actual perceiving depends on the individuals.


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  8. Perception of Organization’s Value Support and Perceived Employability: Insights from Self-Determination theory by Anja Van den Broeckab, Nele De Cuyperb, Elfi Baillienab, Els Vanbelleb, Dorien Vanherckeb & Hans De Wittebc, pages 1904-1918


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