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Chapter 6: Perceiving the World

What are perceptual constancies, and what is their role in perception?


• Perception is the process of assembling sensations into a usable mental
representation of the world.
• In vision, the image projected on the retina is constantly changing, but the
external world appears stable and undistorted because of size, shape, and
brightness constancy.
o Size Constancy: The perceived size of an object remains constant, despite
changes in its retinal image.
o Shape Constancy: The perceived shape of an object is unaffected by
changes in its retinal image.
o Brightness Constancy: The apparent (or relative) brightness of objects
remains the same as long as they are illuminated by the same amount of
light.

What basic principles do we use to group sensations into meaningful patterns?


• The most basic organization of sensations is a division into figure and ground
(object and background).
o Figure-Ground Organization: Part of a stimulus appears to stand out as
an object (figure) against a less prominent background (ground).
• A number of factors contribute to the organization of sensations. These are
nearness, similarity, continuity, closure, contiguity, common region, and
combinations of the preceding. Basic elements of line drawings appear to be
universally recognized.
o Gestalt Principles: The above factors bring some order to your
perceptions.
• A perceptual organization may be thought of as a hypothesis held until evidence
contradicts it. Perceptual organization shifts for ambiguous stimuli. Impossible
figures resist stable organization altogether.
o Perceptual Hypothesis: An initial guess regarding how to organize
(perceive) a stimulus pattern).

How is it possible to see depth and judge distance?


• Depth perception (the ability to perceive three-dimensional space and judge
distances) is present in basic form soon after birth (as shown by testing with the
visual cliff and other methods).
o Visual Cliff: An apparatus that looks like the edge of an elevated platform
or cliff.
• Depth perception depends on the muscular cues of accommodation (bending of
the lens) and convergence (inward movement of the eyes). Stereoscopic vision is
created mainly by retinal disparity and the resulting overlap and mismatch of
visual sensations.
o Depth Cues: Perceptual features that impart information about distance
and three-dimensional space.
 Monocular Depth Cue: A depth cue that can be sensed with one
eye.
 Binocular Depth Cue: A depth cue that requires two eyes.
o Stereoscopic Vision: Perception of space and depth caused chiefly by the
fact that the eyes receive different images.
o Retinal Disparity: Small discrepancies in images on the right and left
retinas.
• Various pictorial cues also underlie depth perception. They are linear perspective,
relative size, height in the picture plane, light and shadow, overlap, texture
gradients, aerial haze, and relative motion (motion parallax). All are monocular
depth cues (only one eye is needed to make use of them).
• The moon illusion appears to be best explained by the apparent distance
hypothesis, which emphasizes the greater number of depth cues present when the
moon is on the horizon.
o Moon Illusion: The apparent change in size that occurs as the moon
moves from the horizon (large moon) to overhead (small moon).
 Apparent-Distance Hypothesis: An explanation of the moon
illusion stating that the horizon seems more distant than the night
sky because more depth cues are present than there would be if the
moon was directly overhead.

What effect does learning have on perception?


• Perceptual habits influence the ways in which we organize and interpret
sensations. Studies of inverted vision show that even the most basic organization
is subject to a degree of a change. Active movement speeds adaptation to a new
perceptual environment.
o Perceptual Habits: Well-established patterns of perceptual organization
and attention.
• Perceptual judgments are not made in a vacuum. They are almost always related
to context or to an internal frame of reference called the adaptation level.
o Adaptation Level: An internal or mental “average” or “medium” point
that is used to judge amounts.
• One of the most familiar of all illusions, the Müller-Lyer illusion, seems to be
related to perceptual learning, linear perspective, size-distance invariance
relationships, and mislocating the end points of the figure.
o Müller-Lyer Illusion: Two equal-length lines tipped with inward or
outward pointing V’s appear to be of different lengths.

How is perception altered by attention, motives, values, and expectations?


• Attention is selective, and it may be divided among various activities. Attention is
closely related to stimulus intensity, repetition, contrast, change, and incongruity.
o Selective Attention: Giving priority to a particular incoming sensory
message.
o Divided Attention: Allotting mental space or effort to various tasks or
parts of a task.
• The phenomenon called inattentional blindness suggests that there can be no
perception without attention.
• Attention is accompanied by an orientation response. When a stimulus is repeated
without change, the orientation response undergoes habituation.
o Orientation Response: Bodily changes that prepare an organism to
receive information from a particular stimulus.
o Habituation: A decrease in perceptual response to a repeated stimulus.
• Personal motives and values often alter perceptions by changing the evaluation of
what is seen or by altering attention to specific details.
• Perceptions may be based on top-down or bottom-up processing of information.
o Top-Down Processing: Applying higher level knowledge to rapidly
organize sensory information into a meaningful perception.
o Bottom-Up Processing: Organizing perceptions by beginning with low-
level features (like assembling a puzzle).
• Attention, prior experiences, suggestion, and motives combine in various ways to
create perceptual sets or expectations. These prepare a person to perceive or
misperceive in a particular way.
o Perceptual Expectancy (or Set): A readiness to perceive in a particular
manner, induced by strong expectations.

How reliable are eyewitness reports?


• Perception is an active reconstruction of events. This is one reason why
eyewitness testimony is surprisingly unreliable. Eyewitness accuracy is further
damaged by weapon focus and a number of similar factors.
o Perceptual Reconstruction: A mental model of external events.
o Weapon Focus: The tendency of crime victims to fix their attention on an
attacker’s weapon.
• Perceptual accuracy is enhanced by reality testing, dishabituation, and conscious
efforts to pay attention. It is also valuable to break perceptual habits, broaden
frames of reference, to beware of perceptual sets, and to be aware of the ways in
which motives and emotions influence perceptions.
o Reality Testing: Obtaining additional information to check on the
accuracy of perceptions.
o Dishabituation: A reversal of habituation.

Is extrasensory perception possible?


• Parapsychology is the study of purported psi phenomena, including clairvoyance,
telepathy, precognition, and psychokinesis.
o Psi Phenomena: Events that seem to lie outside the realm of accepted
scientific laws.
o Clairvoyance: The purported ability to perceive events at a distance or
through physical barriers.
o Telepathy: The purported ability to directly know another person’s
thoughts.
o Precognition: The purported ability to accurately predict future events.
o Psychokinesis: The purported ability to mentally alter or influence objects
or events.
• Research in parapsychology remains controversial owing to a variety of problems
and shortcomings. The bulk of the evidence to date is against the existence of
ESP. Stage ESP is based on deception and tricks.
o Extrasensory Perception: The purported ability to perceive events in
ways that cannot be explained by known capacities of the sensory organs.

Additional Vocabulary:
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o Native Perception: A perceptual experience based on innate processes.
o Empirical Perception: A perception strongly influenced by prior
experiences.
o Reversible Figure: A stimulus pattern in which figure-ground
organization can be reversed.
• Page 217:
o Illusory Figure: An implied shape that is not actually bounded by an edge
or an outline.
o Engineering Psychology (Human Factors Engineering): A specialty
concerned with making machines and work environments compatible with
human perceptual and physical capacities.
o Display: Any dial, screen, light, or other device used to provide
information about a machine’s activity.
o Control: Any knob, handle, button, lever, or other device used to alter the
activity of a machine.
o Natural Design: Human factors engineering that makes use of naturally
understood perceptual signals.
o Feedback: Information on the effects of a response; feedback is returned
to the person performing the response.
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o Camouflage: Designs that break up figure-ground organization.
• Page 223:
o Random Dot Stereogram: Two designs made up of dots. The dots are
identical in each design, except for small areas that contain mismatched
dots. The offset areas create an illusion of depth.
o Pictorial Depth Cues: Features found in paintings, drawings, and
photographs that impart information about space, depth, and distance.
• Page 227:
o Perceptual Learning: Changes in perception that can be attributed to
prior experience.
• Page 229:
o Perceptual Features: Important elements of a stimulus pattern, such as
lines, shapes, edges, spots, and colors.
o Other-Race Effect: The tendency to be better at recognizing face from
one’s own racial group than faces from other racial or ethnic groups.
• Page 231:
o Active Movement: Self-generated action (a factor that accelerates
perceptual adaptation).
o Context: Information surrounding a stimulus.
o Frame of Reference: An internal perspective relative to which events are
perceived and evaluated.
o Illusion: A misleading or distorted perception.
o Hallucination: An imaginary sensation—such as seeing, hearing, or
smelling something that does not exist in the external world.
• Page 233:
o Stroboscopic Movement: Illusion of movement in which an object is
shown in rapidly changing series of positions.
o Size-Distance Invariance: The strict relationship between the distance an
object lies from the eyes and the size of its image.
• Page 239:
o Perceptual Category: A preexisting class, type, or grouping.
• Page 245:
o Zener Cards: A deck of 25 cards bearing various symbols and used in
early parapsychological research.
o Run of Luck: A statistically unusual outcome (as in getting five heads in
a row when flipping a coin) that could still occur by chance alone.
o Replicate: To reproduce or repeat.
o Ganzfeld: A perceptual “blank screen”; usually achieved by creating a
uniform white visual field and a neutral auditory tone.
o Stage ESP: The simulation of ESP for the purpose of entertainment.