The Aspects and Issues of Human Perception Vs Reality

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Problem Definition
  • Objectives
  • Methodology
  • Aspects and Issues of Human Perception
  • Selective Perception
    Perception Filters
  • Theory of Mind
  • Primacy vs. Recency Effect/The Bathtub Effect
  • Halo Effect (Devil's Horn)
  • First/Last Impression
    Leniency/Stringency Effect
    Comparison Effect
    Law of Prägnanz
  • Results
  • Conclusion


Perception – a phenomenon which is hard to describe since everybody perceives things differently. At least, according to Otara (2011) every single person has his or her own interpretation of reality. So, the question is, what is reality if everybody sees things in another way? Unfortunately, this paper cannot provide a solution to this question. However, this paper provides aspects of perception which often lead to issues in the communication with other people. In particular, problems which occur in the area of human resources in regard of human perception. The paper will point out concrete problems for managers and leaders when it comes to perception. Also, it will give some solutions although the main idea is to point out issues of perception so the leaders and managers are aware of certain issues and therefore can try to avoid making the mistakes 99% of us will make anyway.

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Problem Definition

As the title implies, the focal point of this assignment will be on issues of perception. The prevailing opinion is that perception varies throughout all people. Further above it is already mentioned that Otara (2011) argues that “no two people experience and interpret sensations, situations, or their own feelings the same way”. (Otara, 2011, p. 21)

In fact, people see what they want to see and not what is actually happening. At least not what the sender of a message intended to show to the person who receives the message. Also, people hear what they want to hear and not what was said. Since this is normal human behavior, especially leaders need to realize that perception is not reality, it is rather a deceptive perception. (Otara, 2011, p. 21)

This plays an important role in leadership because every good leader needs to be aware of human perception in order to handle it right and therefore achieve the desired effect. A resulting problem is that a good leader not only needs to be aware of his or her perception, meaning how do employees understand a certain message but also does the leader perceive the message the employees want to bring across.


Therefore, the objective of this assignment is to understand the causes and effects of human perception. In particular, the aim is to discover aspects and issues of human perception in regard of leadership-skills and the linked concern about leader’s information-processing capabilities.


In order to reach those objectives, the research plan is to gather information from different scientific researchers about human perception, point out what kind of issues there are in this field and link them to leadership competences. Furthermore, the information gathered will give some solutions to the problems which were discovered and finally there will be a conclusion.

Aspects and Issues of Human Perception

As already mentioned in the chapters above, perception can be linked to several problems. Those are in particular issues regarding the hereinafter listed subchapters. The aspects and issues of human perception in those subchapters will be explained and linked to leadership skills. One main problem which needs to be kept in mind throughout this paper, is that managers and leaders need to handle those issues of human perception with limited information processing capabilities. (Miller, 1956) Meaning the capacity of a human brain is usually not able to process all information which is given. Therefore, the hereinafter problems occur regarding perception.

Selective Perception

First of all, people are not able to cognitively process every single detail of the world. Mischel (1981) and Taylor (1975) call this the cognitive economy. Therefore, leaders need to be aware of this effect and realize that their impressions in general are simplified. (March and Simon, 1958), (O'Reilly, 1983). Dearborn and Simon (1958) called managers in their study “selective information processors”.

One of those simplification is selective perception. (Beyer et al., 1997) It implies that the perception of leaders and managers depend on the broadness or simplicity of a task. Kiesler and Sproull (1982) specified this declaration by giving the following five examples of manager’s perception:

(1) the information may not meet a threshold or aspiration level for what they need or expect—it may be deemed inadequate, (2) they may already have detected related information that they expect to serve their purposes, (3) other, competing information may be more salient, (4) the strength of the signal for the information may be relatively weak, or (5) the category into which the information appears to fall may be inconsistent with what they are seeking.

Bayster and Ford (1997) underline the first example by stating that mangers cannot process information that do not fit into their range of expectations. Meaning that certain functions at work are associated with certain characteristic and leaders link those with a range of information. If this information is inadequate managers are not able to process all details and therefore have a selective perception.

Another problem is that managers tend to rely on information from experts. (Melone, 1994) This bias can lead to wrongful detection of the relevant information for the purpose needed which interacts with Kiesler and Sproull (1982) second example.

Perception Filters

Secondly, the basic idea of perception filters is to focus on the relevant information. Therefore, irrelevant information is pushed to the background and relevant information is in the foreground. An everyday example would be that people are able to focus on a single voice although being in a noisy crowd. (Starbuck and Milliken, 1985)

Managers use those filters in order to distinguish between all the information overload received in one day. (Ackoff, 1967) Here the filters are already used from the intermediaries who report to the mangers. (Starbuck and Milliken, 1985)

Therefore, another form of simplification in information processing are perception filters. Starbuck and Milliken (1985) use this term to describe the fact that mangers cannot focus on all stimuli equality. Meaning that the focus of managers will lie on some information but not on all the information received. Zajac and Bazerman (1991) call this theory blind spots.

Managers will more likely receive information which they are familiar with. (Day and Lord, 1992) The reason for this can also be connect to Kiesler and Sproull (1982) theory about selective perception which was discussed further above.

Bruner (1957) argues that perception filters will occur especially if the content is complex or ambiguous. In this case managers are more likely to ignore, forget or discount relevant information.

Theory of Mind

Furthermore, the Theory of Mind deals with implicit theories, assumptions and concepts of the world. Gallagher and Frith (2003) states that it is the ability to explain and predict others people`s behavior by attributing to the mental state. Meaning that without any information managers already assume different scenarios. For example, if a manager sees his employee sitting in a bar on a Monday morning, the manager will automatically assume various reasons. Is the employee skipping work? Does the employee have personal problems? Is the employee an alcoholic? This capacity to reason about people’s actions is called the Theory of Mind. (Gweon and Saxe, 2013)

The Theory of Mind plays in important role in human perception because it influences the way how leaders and managers see their employees and also what information they filter in a conversation with an employee.

Primacy vs. Recency Effect/The Bathtub Effect

Another issue is the primacy effect which describes a phenomenon regarding memory. When people are asked to recall a list of items, they often recall the first items listed. This is called the primacy effect. At the same time people often start to recall this list of items at the end, recalling the items named at last. This is called the recency effect. (Deese and Kaufman, 1957), (Murdock, JR., 1962)

The primacy and recency effect also occur to managers meaning that information given at first or at last will get more attention and even more importance. Meaning “thus, everything else being equal, the importance attached to information may be affected by its order in the search sequence”. (Moberg and Velasquez, 2004)

Knowing that, managers therefore should pay especially attention to the middle part of any kind of conversation. And not only to the conversation itself but also to the words because the bathtub effect describes that people remember more easily the beginning and the end of a word. Comparable to a person lying in a bathtub where the head and feet stick out of the water. And since the head of the person sticks out more, people also tend to remember more of the beginning of the word than the end. (Aitchison, 1994)

Halo Effect (Devil's Horn)

Furthermore, Thorndike (1920) introduced the term halo effect. It describes “a general cognitive bias in impression formation”. (Thorndike, 1920, p. 276) Meaning that one positive characteristic of a person has an impact on other non-related characteristics. Those characteristics will as a consequent also be judged as good. For example, once the first impression is good, the person who is having this impression will automatically think that the candidate offers better intellectual qualities for the job although the two factors are not related.

The halo effect is also closely linked to appearances because “people tend to judge physically attractive people as having better personal and intellectual qualities than unattractive persons, even though they have no relevant direct evidence about these inferred qualities”. (Thorndike, 1920, p. 276) Being aware of the halo effect is important for managers and leaders in order to judge their employees correctly. Being able to ignore the halo effect and focus on every single characteristic individually is difficult.

Also, there is a negative helo effect, known as the devil effect or the devils’s horn which suggests that one negative attribute leads the manger or leader to further negative judgement. Other kinds of confirmation bias are stereotype effects, prototype effects or similarity effects. (Pohl, 2017)

An additional issue is the so-called similarity effect. It explains how people automatically tend to rate other people better if they realize some kind of similarity to their self-image. In the case of managers and leaders this means that employees who have similar characteristics as their boss are often rated better. Similarities can also be the place of origin, fashion style, taste in music, behavior or even preferring he same football team. (Collisson, 2013)

First/Last Impression

Also, studies show that the so called “first impression” meaning the impression of a person which is established within the first few seconds of meeting a person is very detailed and often accurate. Moon and Roeder (2014) refer to it as a “thin slice” of experience and explains it as a necessary ability in primitive times in history.

For mangers this is especially tricky because a first impression, as the name suggests, cannot be experiences twice. Therefore, managers need to be aware of this phenomenon which can be used as a tool since it is often surprisingly accurate but of course this is not a fully reliable source.

Leniency/Stringency Effect

Moreover, any kind of rating which is done by humans depends on the person’s personality. Some tend to give very high ratings, the so-called leniency effect and some tend to give rather low ratings which refers to the stringency effect. This effect is also known as the 'hawk-dove' effect. Hawks fails most candidates because they have very high standards and doves pass most candidates because of lower standards. (McManus et al., 2006) In order to eliminate this problem in a manger or leadership position a software can be used. (Roberts et al., 2010)

Comparison Effect

Another issue which seems to be quite trivial but need to be kept in mind when dealing in the human resource area is the comparison effect. It makes managers aware that they should not compare employees’ performances to each other but rather focus on objective job requirements. (Moore and Kim, 2003)

Law of Prägnanz

Lastly, the law of prägnanz describes human minds which in general try to make the most meaningful yet easiest interpretation of stimuli. Therefore Stern et al. (2007) states that humans prefer figures with simplicity, regularity, and symmetry because they are easier to follow. For example, a triangle is stored as triangle although it is not one.


In order to handle the above described issues of perception, certain things need to be kept in mind. First of all, having an input on problems regarding perception is the first step to effective leadership. Almost all communication between employees and leaders are linked to perception and therefore it is a crucial tool in leadership. Not only knowing about the issues but also being aware how the issues influence communication will set apart good leaders.

Second of all, it is not important what people say or actually mean. What is important, is what message the other person received. Meaning that people in leadership positions always need to make sure that their employees receive that correct message. To ensure this it is recommendable to repeat, asks, be precise, paraphrase and listen actively in a conversation. Vice versa leaders also need to make sure they receive the message which the employees intend to send. (Otara, 2011)


To conclude, this paper makes aware of ten different effects in human perception which are linked to aspects and issues in the daily contact with employees. It is meant to make leaders and managers aware of the many misunderstandings which can occur due to human perception.

Starting with involuntary filtered perception which causes problems regarding the impressions of employees or important information which gets lost in those filters. Furthermore, certain effects describe how people tend to only recall recent events or only the beginning and the end of a conversation. As a result, leaders need to pay attention especially to the parts which human perception often tends to ignore. Furthermore, leaders need to be aware of their own previous experiences and that those do influence their behavior through for example comparisons. Lastly, leaders should know that human minds always try to make a quick and easy interpretation. Be it conversations, behaviors or observations.

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