Perception is described as the process of categorising and interpreting information. It also describes how we attain an awareness or understanding of the sensory information we experience every day. How can we be selective in the way we process this information?
Selective perception describes how we categorise and interpret sensory information in a way that favours one category or interpretation over another. In other words selective perception is a form of bias because we interpret information in a way that is congruent with our existing values and beliefs. Psychologists believe this process occurs automatically. But why should this happen in the first place?
There are two fundamental reasons for this process. The first is that we often use past experiences to form today’s reality and ways of thinking. The second is that if we constantly reacted to every individual stimulus during the day, we would become completely overwhelmed. With selective perception we are filtering out information we deem unnecessary based on our system of values and beliefs. How many times have you come across a situation that you were unfamiliar with, only to relate it to a similar past experience? How many times have you watched a sequence of adverts on TV, only to think about one that you were particularly interested in? So why should we even think about this process if it happens automatically and doesn’t appear to do us any real harm?
It should be remembered that selective perception prevents us from seeing the truth about other people because of the labels we have already applied to them. We see only what we choose to, which can limit our ability to form complex and fulfilling friendships and relationships. The more aware you become of this process and your own particular triggers, the better equipped you will be to handle situations and relationships differently; perhaps in some cases a more emotionally healthy way.