What are barriers to perception?

Written by lee johnson Google
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What are barriers to perception?
Errors in perception are normally related to mental processes, not your senses. (Getty Thinkstock)

We humans like to think of ourselves as reasonable, logical and perceptive, but this is far from the truth. In reality, there are a whole host of barriers which prevent us from being able to think objectively and perceive and environment or situation accurately. Perception may seem like it merely refers to the things you pick up from your senses, but the majority of the issues come from faulty cognitive processes. Everybody works from crudely-drawn “maps” of reality, and these maps affect the things we perceive by leading us to ignore pertinent facts. To break down the barriers to perception, you need to identify the flaws in your map and continuously fill in new details.


Being overconfident prevents you from accurately perceiving reality because you assume you already have the solution. In the same way that a confident driver may ignore an unfolding situation (a cyclist making a turn, for example) in the false assumption that they already have a complete grasp of the situation, overconfidence in your own judgements can lead you to consciously or subconsciously discount relevant facts. Always question your assumptions when faced with new information. The most common way this manifests itself is through first impressions. You implicitly trust your first impression of someone (a promising employee, for example) and ignore anything which contradicts your pre-conception.


Bias is a type of overconfidence, but it comes from ideas which pre-date the problem at hand. For example, you may believe that students are lazy. Whilst this may be true in many cases, your assumption implies that all students are lazy, which is obviously untrue. This taints your perception, thus leading you to make flawed decisions (who to hire for a position, for example) because they fit in with your faulty assumption. It’s always important to question yourself, and analyse your own opinions in an objective and ruthless fashion.

Unfortunate consequences

Nobody wants bad things to happen, but sometimes they do. One of the potential barriers to perception is your own desire for a certain outcome. For example, if you have reason to suspect your best friend having an affair with your partner, you’re much more likely to discount the possibility because of the immense, emotionally-crippling consequences. You may ignore more evidence simply because you don’t want the truth to be what it seems.


This is a wider, overarching barrier to perception. In the three barriers above, the problem is compounded by “cherry-picking” of information, or in other words paying attention to facts which support your current viewpoint and ignoring all others. In the bias example with the “lazy” students, you’d be cherry-picking if you chose to ignore examples in real life of students paying for their education by working part time, but always noticed students sitting around in the park during free periods.


There are two different elements to the brain’s decision-making process, called S1 and S2. People class S1 decisions as intuition, because they’re lightning-quick and don’t require conscious processing. S2 decisions take longer, because they’re deliberate, conscious processes which analyse and disseminate information rationally. S1 processes rely on the crudely-drawn reality map (which includes biases and faulty assumptions), but S2 processes allow you to make alterations. If you’re in a rush, you’re much more likely to trust your basic, flawed map of reality.


Emotions and logic don’t mix. It’s widely accepted that the two hemispheres of your brain are responsible for the separate processes, so it’s very difficult to engage your rational side when you’re overcome with emotion. If you have strong feelings about a situation for any reason, you need to step back and consciously engage your S2 thinking process. Put the emotion aside and objectively evaluate the situation before taking action.


Imagine you’re interviewing ten candidates for a single position. The first five are extremely underwhelming, but the sixth is excellent. The seventh, eighth and ninth are good, and the final one is slightly better than the sixth. When presented like this, the best choice is obvious, but over the course of the long day you’re likely to experience things differently. The dearth of good interviews at the beginning makes the sixth candidate seem like a breath of fresh air, astoundingly superior to the first five. Then with the few good candidates which follow, the tenth only seems moderately impressive in comparison. It’s natural to contrast different options, but in some situations it can be extremely misleading. In the example, you’d choose the sixth candidate even though the tenth was better, simply because he was comparatively more impressive when considered alongside the previous interviewees.

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