Perception Is Reality: Defining and Understanding Perception’s Role in How We Experience the World

Brain Credit: Johnhain/Pixabay

Have you heard the saying, “Perception is reality?” Many people view the world around them according to how they perceive it. Psychology Today warns against confusing the two. Perception is the way people understand reality. Reality is the state of how things actually are.  

Even so, perception plays a powerful role in how humans interact with the world around them. Although most of the action is automatic, it’s not a passive process. Learning more about what perception is and how the process works can be the key to understanding human behavior better.

Perception Defined

Humans have five sense organs that work within a larger sensory system. Through sight, sound, taste, smell and touch, humans collect input from the outside world and transmit information to the brain. It's a complex process that also takes proprioception senses into account. These are the senses that can pinpoint movement and shifts in body positions. VeryWellMind notes that the cognitive processes that allow people to process information, such as recognizing faces of friends, are also an important part of the perception process.

The Process of Perception

Did you know that when you perceive something, a multi-step process takes place? The human body undergoes the process automatically. It starts when you receive a stimulus from the environment. That could be anything that activates your five senses or proprioception senses. Examples include noticing the sway of branches in the breeze when you're outside, smelling the scent of magnolia in the summer air and seeing a woman walking her Great Dane. Each of those things is a type of stimulus. Each one kicks off the perceptual process.

In addition to the environmental stimulus, there's also the object that you're focusing your attention on. That could be the familiar face of your neighbor while she walks her dog or the falling leaves dropping from the swaying branches. Receptor cells respond to the stimuli. These cells pass messages through the body's system of neurons. Once those messages reach the spine and brain, they're analyzed.

Perception Leads to Recognition

Ultimately, after the messages are analyzed you become aware of the stimulus. This allows the brain to interpret and give meaning to what you're sensing. This is known as the recognition stage. It's important because it lets you better understand the world around you. It also gives you the information you need to take action. Necessary actions could be as simple as turning your head to get a better view or running away from potential danger.

Types of Perception

There are several different types of perception. Some of these types are categorized based on the sense that’s activated by the stimulus. Examples include the following:

Visual Perception

You see something and the image forms on your retina. It gets turned into electrical signals and travels to the brain. Examples of visual perception include depth perception and color perception. Depth perception is how humans see objects in three dimensions and figure out how far away it is. Color perception is how the brain interprets colors.

Auditory Perception

Sound waves travel through the ear and are transformed into messages sent to the auditory cortex in the brain. This is where the information is processed so you can interact with the information.

Tactile Perception

The sense of touch is crucial for interacting with the world. It lets you figure out how to use objects and gives you information about objects' physical properties. As you touch something, messages are sent to the brain. In return, you’ll get messages that tell you about properties. Examples include if the object is soft or hard, rough or smooth.