Body processes

Selective Perception – Function, Task & Diseases

Selective perception

Selective perception is based on the natural mechanism by which the human brain searches for patterns in its environment. Due to the selective nature, people are more likely to perceive what fits into a pattern. The selectivity of perception is clinically relevant, for example, in the context of depression .

What is selective perception?

The human brain works with patterns. From an evolutionary point of view, the human ability to recognize patterns has contributed significantly to survival. Using pattern recognition mechanisms, the brain has made the environment more predictable and therefore less dangerous. The search for patterns is still a fundamental mechanism of the human brain and is reflected in processes such as perception.

Selective perception corresponds to a psychological phenomenon that allows only certain aspects of the environment to become conscious . If all aspects of a situation entered consciousness, there would be chaos. The brain could not work effectively with the abundance of information and is therefore dependent on permanently blocking out stimuli. Percepts (what is perceived) are not the same as reality, but merely a subjective partial impression of it.

Certain sensory stimuli are emphasized during perception. The perception thus consists of priming , framing and many similar effects. The human brain looks for patterns in the environment, recognizes these patterns and emphasizes them. For this reason, what corresponds to a certain pattern is more likely to be perceived. Stimuli from the perception process are more likely to be emphasized by the brain if they can be embedded in a pattern. Selective perception thus corresponds to the unconscious and automatic search for patterns that the human brain is constantly pursuing.

function & task

For example, in a discussion people are more likely to hear the arguments that support their own position. It has been proven that they are more likely to see things that are familiar to them from their own environment. Human perception works with various filters to protect against sensory overload. These filters correspond to a large extent to one’s own interests , values, opinions and one’s own experiences with the world. 

This principle of selective perception can be traced back to the pattern search of the brain. As a result of this search for patterns, the selection of all perceived sensory impressions is shaped by experiences and expectations. For example, if you read an article about spelling, you will automatically pay more attention to the correct spelling in this article. Anyone who walks through the city with a bad opinion of people is more likely to remember the one incident that confirms this opinion and ignore the dozen incidents that contradict this opinion. Anyone who has just bought a Smart suddenly sees Smarts everywhere on the road. Anyone who has just had a child hears all the more children screaming in everyday life. Perception is always selective.

For this reason, two different people do not under any circumstances perceive a situation in the same way. Their history determined what they emphasized in a situation.

The filtering of sensory stimuli is a survival requirement for all living beings. More stimuli constantly flow into an individual than the sensory cells could absorb and transmit to the central nervous system . Most stimulus filters are situational. For this reason, perception is always contextual. Stimulus filters such as interests are less situational, but still help to perceive what is relevant.

With stimulus filtering, sensory impressions are classified. This classification begins in the sensory organ and continues in the central nervous system as selective perception. The basis of selective cognition is a specific need, such as hunger . Through selective perception, a hungry person is presented with bakeries and farms on a silver platter, since experience has shown that hunger can be satisfied there.

Diseases & Ailments

Basically, the selective perception is not pathological, but is one of the natural reality filters and is therefore a normal reference to reality. However, selective perception can certainly take on pathological forms and promote diseases. Mental illnesses in particular often go back to selective perception disorders. For example, a traumatic incident in the past can lead to the affected person having an extremely negative image of their fellow human beings and only hearing negative things in their statements. Such perceptual disorders play a role, for example, in diseases such as depression or eating disorders . Depressed people perceive through black glasses. 

Culturally and socially determined habits of thought are also a major filter and affect perception by leading to a selection from all perceptible stimuli. Predominantly that which fits into the thought pattern is perceived. If the individual adopts thought patterns without checking them, their ability to perceive is severely restricted and can also promote mental illnesses, for example if the thought patterns learned to be correct do not correspond to their own felt truth.

Not only filters that are too narrow can impair the mental well-being. Filters that are too open also play a role in mental illness. In many psychoses , the perceptual filters no longer work. Those affected are thin-skinned and no longer able to separate the inner and outer world. Patients often perceive inner conflicts as manifestations in the outside world and they are defenseless against the outside world. Perception disorders or distortions play a role in almost every mental illness. For this reason, selective perception is clinically highly relevant in the field of psychology .

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.