“The organization, identification and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment. Perception is not the passive receipt of these signals, but it is shaped by learning, memory, expectation and attention.
Individual’s perceptual sets reflect their own personality traits. Not only can there be no completely “unbiased, unfiltered” perception, but this means there is a great deal of feedback between perception and expectation (perceptual experiences often shape our beliefs, but those perceptions were based on existing beliefs”
I can recall two obvious examples of perception influencing how people thought of me and how that relates to their pre-existing beliefs and expectations:
I remember meeting a theatre professional who, upon hearing me speak in regular conversation, perceived as being a talented actor with training. How could he know this? He had never seen me perform. His pre-existing belief or expectation that someone with my quality of voice and demeanor was “talented,” molded his perception of me.
I remember meeting an actor and beginning the rehearsal process for a play. Over time, we became well acquainted and he confessed that upon meeting me, he thought I was to be a terrible actor because I was attractive, dressed well and socially active. His perception was molded by his expectation of what a person who looks and acts like me would be capable of as an actor, based solely on his previous experiences.
According to Wikipeidia
One experiment found that thinking of the name “hitler” led subjects rating a person as more hostile.
In life, I know someone who people believe to resemble Johnny Depp. Their perception of him is molded by that identification and, therefore, people almost always have a positive idea of this person and their performance as an actor because of this association and not necessarily because of the quality of his performance.
The Power of Perception
Now, with all this in mind, why do we find it difficult to believe that gender, race and sexual orientation (among a multitude of other things) influences our perception of an individual? Set aside your fear of being seen as a bad person. Can you honestly say you don’t have pre-existing ideas about:
• A blonde white woman in fashionable skinny jeans and heels.
• A Mexican man riding his bike down the street.
• A large black man in a hoodie.
• A non gender-conforming person.
• An “attractive” person
• An “ugly” person
• A “fat person
• Someone with HIV or AIDS
• Someone with a criminal record
• A white man in a suit
• A voluptuous black woman
Denial does not move us forward, it holds us back. We should understand that these factors influence what we think of people and in different ways, person to person. This knowledge is what can propel us forward. Movies, TV shows, what is shown to us in the news, what we “learned” in text books, all these things influence our perception of people and situations. Once we recognize and understand that, we can begin to see the world and each other differently. I know that my perception of this “hipster” gentleman working at this coffee shop is molded by what I have heard of “hipsters” and this particular coffee shop. This is why labels are so strong. Let’s think about these things instead of deciding they don’t apply to us.