Chapter 5: Sensual and perceptual theories

15 Jul

• “Sensations” are raw data from nerves transmitted to the brain.

• “Perceptions” are meanings concluded after the stimuli are received

– Drawn from prior experiences, comparison with other senses, stored images, etc.

Five theories to explain the way we see:

• Sensual

– Gestalt

– Constructivism

– Ecological

• Perceptual

– Semiotic

– Cognitive

Sensual theory: Gestalt

• “The whole is different from the sum of its parts.”

• Perception is the result of organizing elements into groups, according to four (4) laws:

– Similarity

– Proximity

– Continuation

– Common fate

Sensual theory: Constructivism

• Minor clarification to gestalt theory, attributing active perception and eye movement in constructing an image

Sensual theory: Ecological

• Use real people in real-world environments, not eye-tracking equipment in a lab

• We interpret depth from light and shadow cues, and no high-level brain function is required

• Many perceptions about size and depth require no “mental calculation”

Perceptual theory: Semiotic

• The study of “signs”

• Signs can be any physical representation, action, object, or image that stand for something else

Three types of signs, with different speeds of comprehension:

• Iconic: easiest to understand, as they most closely resemble the thing they represent. Examples: restroom “people”, olympic sport icons, some road signs (falling rocks, slippery road)

Indexical: harder to interpret than icons, but still a logical connection to the thing they represent. Examples: footprint, smoke, fingerprints, crumbs

– Symbols: most abstract; no logical or representational connection to the thing they represent, therefore they must be taught and learned. Examples: letters, words, numbers, colors, gestures, flags, costumes, logos, music

• because they are abstract, symbols can be combined to form new meanings, sometimes unrelated to the originals

• most flexible, and most powerful messages involve manipulation of universally understood signs

Perceptual theory: Cognitive

• We arrive at perceptions through conclusions drawn from mental operations

• Memory: works both ways — images are interpreted by recalling stored images, and images we see spark memories of other things (seeing the mailbox reminds us we have to pay our bills)

• Projection: we project meaning onto what we see, based on mental state, personality, and other factors (inkblots, clouds, two people whispering and laughing)

• Expectation: we often see what we expect to see, overlooking details that don’t fit our mental model of what “should” be there (we have trouble proofreading our own writing)

• Selectivity: we filter out details that aren’t relevant at the time, to avoid overload (looking for a friend in a red hat in a crowd)

• Habituation: we ignore stimuli that we see often. One key to creativity is to look at familiar things in a new way. Conversely, unfamiliar stimuli help us think in new ways (go to a new place to think up new ideas)

• Salience: we notice stimuli that are somehow relevant or have significance (hungry people notice restaurants)

• Dissonance: we can only process one thing at a time. Distractions force us to avoid processing other stimuli (turn down the radio when we’re looking for a house).

• Culture: many factors affect how we interpret visual stimuli — ethnicity, age, gender, socio-economic status, work, location, education, nationality, etc. (the image of Uncle Sam means many different things, depending on culture)

• Words: we categorize, frame, interpret and remember ideas as words. Our language has a great bearing on what we perceive and recall. (Eskimos have over 100 words for snow… therefore, they may see, remember and describe a particular winter scene differently than someone with only 2 or 3 words)


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