Perception is the processing of information received from the senses. Your complex central nervous system works to identify, organize and interpret sensory information to make sense of the world around you. This will seem effortless, because for the most part, this processing happens outside of your conscious awareness. Since the perceptual process is so individualized, several people may encounter the same situation but will perceive it in a completely different way.

Our brain’s perceptual systems help us see the world as a stable place, even when the sensory information we are receiving is always changing or incomplete. In fact, human and animal brains are structured in such a way that different areas of the brain are simultaneously processing different types of sensory information. All of these different sections are interconnected and affect each another. For example, taste and smell are two senses that strongly influence one another.

Grouping things helps us understand and interpret our world. We perceive things by categorizing them in the following ways: similarity, proximity, continuity, and closure.

  • Similarity: grouping things together because they look like each other.
  • Proximity: grouping things according to how spatially close they are to one another.
  • Continuity: grouping things based on patterns.
  • Closure: Letting our minds fill in missing information such as the side of a circle, so that we can put them in the “circle” category.

American psychologist Jerome Bruner developed a model of perception. According to this model, people go through the following process to form opinions:

  • First, we encounter an unfamiliar target. We are open to different informational cues and want to learn more about the target.
  • Next, we try to collect more information about the target. Gradually, we come across some familiar cues which help us categorize the target.
  • Finally, we look for even more cues that confirm the categorization of the target. We also actively ignore and even distort cues that don’t line up with our initial perceptions. Our perception becomes more selective and we finally paint a consistent picture of the target.

Example: The complex perspectives in M.C. Escher’s artwork are meant to be visually confounding.