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Perception And Inter-Cultural Communication

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Perception and inter-cultural communication

ÐŽoThe moon is a rocky physical sphere that orbits the Earth; yet when looking at this object, many Americans often see a man in the moon, many Native Americans perceive a rabbit, Chinese claim a lady is fleeing her husband, and Samoans report a woman weavingÐŽ±(Samovar 56). For Americans, a ÐŽoVÐŽ± sign made with two fingers usually represents victory. Australians equate this gesture with a rude American gesture usually made with the middle finger. Most Asians respond negatively to white flowers because white is associated with death. For Peruvians, Iranians, and Mexicans, yellow flowers often invoke the same reaction. In these three examples, the external objects (moons, hands, flowers) were the same, yet the responses are different. The reason is perception. Perception is the means by which we make sense of our physical and social world. That is to say, it is the process by which we become aware of objects, events, and especially people and their behavior through our various senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. In this process, we meditate our information about and knowledge of our external physical and social world and thus form our own images of that world. Perception is about the way in which we think about the outside world and can therefore decide the way in which we behave and communicate with other people. In this sense, we can say that perception plays a big role in the process of communication. It not only decides our behavior, but also keeps us doing in that way. Therefore, in order to be an effective communicator, one first has to have a better understanding of perception.

First, letЎЇs have a close look at the process of perception. Generally speaking, the process of perception occurs in three stages. And instead of being mutually excluded, these stages are ÐŽocontinuous and blend into one anotherÐŽ± (DeVito 33).

In the first stage, sensory stimulation occurs. During the whole period, as we have mentioned at the beginning, our sense organs are stimulated. You hear Backstreet BoyЎЇs new record; you see someone you havenЎЇt seen for years; you smell perfume on the person next to you; you taste a juicy steak; and you feel a sweaty palm as you shake hands.

Naturally, you do not perceive everything; rather, you engage in selective perception (DeVito 33). For example, when you are daydreaming in class, you do not hear what the teacher is saying until your own name is called. Then you wake up. You know the teacher called your name, but you do not know why. This is a clear example of selective perception. In this case, you perceive what is meaningful to you at this moment and do not perceive what is not meaningful.

You are also more likely to perceive stimuli that are greater in intensity than surrounding stimuli and those that have novelty value (Lahey 165). For example, television commercials normally play at a greater intensity than regular programming to insure that you take special notice of them. You are also more likely to notice the student who dresses in a novel way rather than the one who dresses like everyone else. You will quickly perceive someone who shows up in class wearing a tuxedo or at a formal party in shorts. In a word, you perceive only a very small portion of what you could perceive. Just as there are limits on how far you can see there are also limits on the quantity of stimulation you can take in at any given time.

The second stage is that of the organization of the sensory stimulation. This perceptual organization helps us to place people, information, and objects by association. Usually, the sensory stimulation is organized in some way according to certain principles. Two principles, proximity and resemblance, will illustrate how sensory stimuli might be organized.

According to the principle of proximity, you perceive as a group those persons who are physically close together. You see them as having something in common. For example, you would perceive family members or members of a club as having similar attitudes, values, and beliefs. According to the principle of resemblance, you group people who are similar in appearance and distinguish them from those who are dissimilar. For example, you would perceive members of the same race to have similar values and opinions. You would perceive people who dress similarly (for example, business executives in their gray suits) to be similar in attitudes or behaviors.

However, there is one thing that we should pay attention to. That is, neither of these principles will necessarily give accurate information. Such information should only serve as hypothesis or possibilities that need to be further investigated, not as true conclusions that should be acted upon.

After the organization of the sensory stimulation, we have to interpret and evaluate them, which is the third and also the most important stage of the perception process. Here, we often use the hyphenated form ÐŽointerpretation-evaluationÐŽ± to identify this process for the two processes are closely related to each other and thus cannot be separated.

This step is inevitably subjective. This is because your interpretation-evaluations are not based solely on the external stimulus; they are also greatly influenced by ÐŽoyour experiences, need, wants, values, beliefs about the way things are or should be, physical or emotional state at the time, expectations and so onÐŽ± (DeVito 34). German novelist Herman Hesse once stated ÐŽothere is no reality except the one contained within usÐŽ± (69). By saying this, he was indicating that it is ourselves rather the outside world that is playing a much more important part in the process of perception. There is a point in the following example:

On a job interview, several recruiters took Allyson to dinner. Before dinner they stopped at a bar for drinks. Instead of a cocktail, she ordered fruit juice. During dinner, after everyone else ordered wine, she asked for a ginger ale. The next day the recruiters discussed the candidates and each commented on the fact that Allyson hadnЎЇt ordered anything alcoholic. One recruiter thought that she had been instructed not to drink on employment interviews, another thought she was a ÐŽoreformedÐŽ± alcoholic, and another thought she abstained for religious reasons. In this case, each recruiter formed their perceptions based on their own life experiences, but each was incorrect. In actuality, Allyson disliked the taste of alcohol.

From this example we can see that there is much room for disagreement in this step. That is to say, although we may all be exposed to the same external stimulus, the way we interpret-evaluate and organize it will differ from person



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