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Principles of perception

1. The principle of figure and ground

In this principle, the terms figure and ground are used to explain how people use the elements of the scene, which contain a similarity in shape and appearance and group them together as one whole entity. All similar elements (figure) tend to be perceptually contrasted with dissimilar elements (ground) in order to create the impression of a whole (Spelke 1993, p. 1490).

For instance, in a picture of a lighthouse with blue horizontal lines, the lighthouse stands out as the figure, while the horizontal blue lines are perceived as the ground (Lohr 2000, p. 49). However, it is not always easy to separate visually the figure from the ground. Sometimes, creative artists may make drawings that illustrate how difficult it is to pick out the figure from the ground on which it is positioned.

Psychologists have traditionally been using carefully designed art that plays around with the figure and ground in profoundly fascinating ways (Goldstein 2009, p. 298). In such works of art, the figure and ground appear to interchange. However, nature also provides perceptual intrigues that are difficult to point out without the use of the principle of figure and ground. In most cases, this takes the form of camouflage, whereby the principle facilitates the breakdown of figure and ground. The objective is always to make the figure seem like the ground so much it disappears from view. It is only with immense difficulty that one can separate a chameleon from the green leaf stalk on which it is perched. This is because the figure and ground have been merged together.

This principle perfectly explains the tendency by some people in an organization to hide their true attributes mainly through pretense. A prospective employee who perceives his background to constitute an undesirable trait may suppress this negative attribute, by pretending to possess only the attributes that are needed for the job. For instance, they may claim to have associations with renowned professionals in a field for which the employer is seeking a job candidate. Employer may have to request for further information in order to determine whether the employees are telling the truth or not.

2. The principle of similarity, proximity, and continuity

The principle of similarity indicates that objects that share visual characteristics like color, shape, texture, size, orientation or value are seen as belonging together. These features make similar objects create varying impressions, even though they are equidistant from those objects that are the odd ones out within the group. For instance, in a groups of small and large circles, the large circles will appear to belong together just because of the similarity in their size. The same thing will apply to the small circles.

In terms of proximity, things that are closer together are regarded as belonging together. For instance, when horizontal rows made up of small circles are closer to each other than the vertical columns that they form, they are perceived as two vertical lines. In terms of continuity, it becomes easy to predict the preference for continuous figures. For instance, the image of a black cross is perceived as two crossed lines instead of four lines that meet at the center.

The principle of similarity, proximity, and continuity explains the behavior of people within organizations, whereby individuals are judged according to the people they associate with (Ferguson 2004, p. 39). When people adopt mannerisms, habits, memberships in certain clubs and societies, likes, and dislikes that are typical of a given caliber of people, they are automatically classified in the same group with such people.

The concept of proximity is used to determine the commonness of purpose among everyone within the organization, despite the various individual differences, personality traits, and personal interests among them. Similarly, the concept of continuity defines the disposition by people in an organization to appreciate success in its entirety without paying attention to personal sacrifices of certain individuals, exceptional transformational leadership qualities of the manager or some unethical behavior among some employees in efforts to achieve the desired outcome.

 

References

Ferguson, M 2004, How social perception can automatically influence behavior, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 33-39.

Goldstein, B 2009, Sensation and perception, Penguin Books, New York.

Lohr, L 2000, ‘Three Principles of Perception for Instructional Interface Design’, Educational Technology, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 45-52.

Spelke, E 1993, ‘Gestalt relations and object perception: a developmental study’ Perception, Vol. 22, No. 12, pp. 1483 – 1501.

 

 

 

 

 

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