Perception and Biases – How they work together to create your reality

Blog: Communication Basics

Picture of Lynda-Ross VegaI’ve been fascinated with the concept of perception since I can remember. How does it happen that two people can be in the same place, see the same thing, and come away with two different versions of what happened?

The answer is a really interesting combination of the process of perception and the filters provided by our biases.

Let’s start with perception – it’s a complex process that our brains use to create meaning by contextualizing the input from our five senses, our innate biases, and our life experiences.

We create meaning moment by moment with our perception process, and it all happens in the blink of an eye. Over time this process begins a consistent view of the world that is our subjective reality.

Okay, that’s a lot to take in. So, let’s break it down a little bit further.

What are the five senses? Sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. The five senses provide data about what is happening in the moment. They also contribute to memories—a photo, a song, a perfume, a food, a hug—each can remind us of a moment in the past.

Research shows that the average person gets 75 percent of their input from sight, 13 percent from hearing, and 12 percent combined from smell, taste, and touch. Of course, for people who have lost one or more of their five senses, the other senses become more acute and fill in the void.

Your five senses each send signals to your brain, and your brain combines them into a contextual message. Then, your innate biases kick in to create meaning from the data that your senses received.

Innate biases are hard-wired in our brains. The type of biases I’m talking about have to do with behaviors, not beliefs.

The concept of innate bias comes from philosophy and psychology, which define it as an item of knowledge that people are born with rather than something people have learned through experience.

Innate biases are our brains’ way of helping us instantaneously decide what’s important, what deserves our attention, what takes priority. They are shortcuts our brains use to quickly make judgments and decisions on the information received from our senses.

Innate biases are unique to your Perceptual Style. They are in alignment with how you make meaning of the world. You literally create context from the input of your senses with your innate biases. That context provides you with a starting point for action.

Let’s say three friends walk into a party together. They each look around the room for a second or two before moving off in different directions.

Travis initially notices the facts in the room—where the bar is, where the food is, how people are scattered around. He heads to the bar to get a drink.

James initially notices the feel of the room—people seem to be stationary in small groups rather than milling around. He spies a group of people he knows and heads over to join them.

Connor initially notices the action levels among the groups. Some are sedate, and some are jovial. He heads over to one of the more jovial groups where everyone seems to be talking.

Each of the friends takes action based on their perception of the room—what their senses told them and what their innate biases filtered for them as most important and the starting point for action.

Before we go on, let’s take a moment to explore two other types of biases we hear a lot about in the news today: unconscious bias and cognitive biases. You aren’t born with them like you are with innate biases. However, unconscious and cognitive biases can impact your judgment and choices because they impact your beliefs.

Everyone, no matter their Perceptual Style, experiences unconscious and cognitive biases in the same way. You learn unconscious biases early in life, and you don’t question them because they just “are.” An unconscious bias is internally logical but based on a fallacy or a misconception handed down to you by parents, environment, authority figures, culture, etc. Simple examples are believing nighttime is scary, redheads have lots of freckles, or all dogs hate cats. Complex examples—also known as implicit bias—include racism and sexism.

Once you are aware of an unconscious bias (things you learned early in life and don’t question because they “are”), it’s by definition no longer unconscious. You can notice when you are applying the bias, and consequently, you can work to correct the misconceptions associated with the bias at its core.

If your bias is that nighttime is always scary, it can be as easy as creating an adventure in the night to watch the stars and see how beautiful things are so that you have a positive experience that disproves the belief that nighttime is always bad.

Complex unconscious (also known as implicit) biases take more work to unravel, but the work is clear once you are aware of the bias. These types of biases often accompany stereotypes (think of racism, ageism, sexism). A place to start is to begin thinking of the people you encounter as individuals and go on from there.

Cognitive biases are systematic errors in thinking. These often arise from thought-processing errors related to memory, attention, or other types of mental mistakes.  Examples of cognitive bias include:

  • Favoring information that confirms your existing beliefs and ignoring other information (confirmation bias).

  • Believing you knew the outcome of a past event before it happened, as in “I knew it all along” (hindsight bias).

  • Tending to be overly influenced by the first piece of information you hear (anchoring bias).

When you learn about cognitive biases (systemic errors in thinking), you can choose to take action to mitigate them until they disappear from your normal response patterns. For example, once you are aware of confirmation bias, you can choose to periodically seek out opposing points of view as input into your decision-making processes.

An essential thing to note is unconscious and cognitive biases can be recognized and changed.

Okay, now back to innate biases and how they relate to perception.

Innate biases are aligned with Perceptual Style. For example, because of your Perceptual Style, you may be predisposed (a synonym for innate bias) to be optimistic, enjoy bargaining, seek out community, observe protocols, look for problems to solve, or engage quickly. Each of these is a characteristic behavior of one of the Perceptual Styles.

Innate bias is a gift. Rather than being born with a blank slate for a brain, we each have predispositions that jump-start our understanding and allow us to take action.

Perception doesn’t stop with input from your senses and filtering by your innate biases. There’s one more step.

Life experience plays a critical part in the process of perception because it adds validation. Our brain takes in the information from our senses, filters it with the context of our innate biases, and then checks the perception against what we’ve known to be true for ourselves in the past.

If we’ve had similar experiences before, it may flavor our perception of the current moment. If nothing in our memory is relevant, then our brain takes note of the current perception and stores it to build on later.

Perception is fascinating, as it both grows and solidifies over time. It solidifies through repetition. It grows as you gain new life experiences and awareness. The more solidified your perception becomes, the more you will believe that the way you see the world is the only and correct way.

The more open you are to new life experiences and points of view different from your own, the more your perception will grow. It’s your choice based on how much emphasis you put on the life experience validation. You can choose to be “set in your ways” or to be open to new options (or a combination of those two extremes). The more open you are to understanding perceptual views that are different from your own, the more you will be open to accepting differences between you and others in your life.

Perception defines your view of reality. It helps you make meaning of the world around you. That’s pretty profound!

Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.

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About Lynda-Ross Vega

Lynda-Ross Vega is a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd. She specializes in helping corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, and individuals with interpersonal communications, team dynamics, personal development, and navigating change. Lynda-Ross is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary behavioral psychology theory and assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their natural strengths and build the life and career they dream of. For free information on how to succeed in business and in life doing more of what you do best, visit https://www.YourTalentAdvantage.com.

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