What Is Perception Bias? | Definition & Examples
Perception bias is the tendency to perceive ourselves and our environment in a subjective way. Although we like to think our judgment is impartial, we are, in fact, unconsciously influenced by our assumptions and expectations.
If left unchecked, perception bias can affect how we evaluate ourselves and others. As a result, we may form inaccurate impressions.This, in turn, can impact the quality of our decision-making.
What is perception bias?
Perception bias is a broad term used to describe different situations in which we perceive inaccuracies in our environment. It is a type of cognitive bias that occurs when we subconsciously form assumptions or draw conclusions based on our beliefs, expectations, or emotions.
Perception bias works like a filter, helping us make sense of all the information we are exposed to in our surroundings. As a result, our perception of reality is often distorted. For example, this can cause us to unfairly label people or make inferences about their abilities on the basis of superficial observations or stereotypes.
Why does perception bias occur?
Perception bias occurs because our perception is selective. Here, perception refers to the process of screening, selecting, organizing, and interpreting stimuli, such as words or objects, in order to give them meaning. Our brain chooses to hone in on one or very few stimuli out of the multitude of stimuli surrounding us. This is one way our brains differentiate between important and unimportant things.
Due to this, our perception of a given situation is not a photographic representation of reality. Rather, it is a unique representation, informed by objective information, our prior beliefs and expectations (called cognitive factors), and our hopes, desires, and emotions (called motivational factors). Motivational and cognitive factors are sometimes intertwined, but they can also function separately.
What are different types of perception bias?
There are many types of bias that can influence our perceptions, whether of objects, others, or ourselves. Although there is no exhaustive list, the following are some common types of perception bias:
- Visual Perception. When we look at something, our brains use the information available (like visual cues or prior experience) to make sense of an object. This means that our visual processing of faces can be biased. For example, a person’s group membership may lead us to view their face as untrustworthy. Negative attitudes and beliefs like outgroup bias can have an effect on our visual perception.
- Self-perception. People are often biased in their self-perceptions, failing to assess themselves accurately. For example, people may take personal responsibility for successes while denying personal responsibility for failures (self-serving bias), or they may underestimate their performance and abilities, casting themselves in a more negative light (self-effacement bias). When comparing the self to others, people often commit what is known as the false consensus effect, believing that our opinions or behaviors are generalizable to the general population.
- Social perception. Social perception refers to the impressions we form about others. A common problem with social perception is the tendency to think of people in terms of their social group membership. Although this process is useful in navigating a complex social world, at the same time it often leads to unfair generalizations or stereotypes. For example, a person who believes that men drive better than women is more likely to notice women driving poorly than men driving poorly. The halo effect, affinity bias, and ingroup bias are also forms of social perception bias.
Perception bias examples
Perception bias can cause us to treat our colleagues unfairly in an effort to advance ourselves in the workplace.
Selective perception bias can help explain why individuals with opposing views tend to find the same media coverage to be biased against them.
How to reduce perception bias
Although it is not possible to entirely eliminate perception bias, there are ways to reduce it. More specifically, when you make a decision or form an impression of someone, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I have a motive that makes me see things a certain way?
- What are my expectations from this situation or decision?
- Have I discussed my thoughts or opinions with people who don’t agree with me?
- If you find yourself making absolute statements about others, using strong words like “always” or “all,” ask yourself how accurate this is, and whether you have evidence to back up your claim.
Other types of research bias
Frequently asked questions about perception bias
- What is an everyday life example of perception bias?
A real-life example of perception bias is the false consensus effect. Because we spend most of our time with friends, family, and colleagues who share the same opinions or values we do, we are often misled to believe that the majority of people think or act in ways similar to us. This explains, for instance, why some people take office supplies home: they may genuinely feel that this behavior is more common than it really is.
- Why is perception bias a problem?
Perception bias is a problem because it prevents us from seeing situations or people objectively. Rather, our expectations, beliefs, or emotions interfere with how we interpret reality. This, in turn, can cause us to misjudge ourselves or others. For example, our prejudices can interfere with whether we perceive people’s faces as friendly or unfriendly.
- What is selective perception?
Selective perception is the unconscious process by which people screen, select, and notice objects in their environment. During this process, information tends to be selectively perceived in ways that align with existing attitudes, beliefs, and goals.
Although this allows us to concentrate only on the information that is relevant for us at present, it can also lead to perception bias. For example, while driving, if you become hyper-focused on reaching your exit on a highway, your brain may filter visual stimuli so that you can only focus on things you need to notice in order to exit the highway. However, this can also cause you to miss other things happening around you on the road.
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