“Perceptual influences” are those factors that affect how individuals perceive reality. We are all, to greater or lesser degrees, a product of the environments in which we are raised, which in turn are a product of the broader societal influences that shape those environments. The culture in which we exist, our religions, ethnicities, and genders all contribute to how we view others and ourselves. Depending upon one’s individual upbringing, the levels of influence of disparate factors varies widely, but it is hard to completely eliminate such influences, and better to simply recognize them and adapt accordingly.
It is well-known that cultural influences are powerful motivators for how individuals respond to events. The current outbreak of the Ebola virus – an enormously dangerous hemorrhagic disease – has illuminated the difficulties inherent in responding to crises when cultural inhibitions influence human behavior. In societies like some of those in the rural West African villages where this deadly disease has appeared, distrust of central governments, including the public health administrators and practitioners essential for the disease’s treatment and containment, has greatly complicated those governments’ ability to respond to the outbreak. If villagers view government officials as inherently evil, and the scale of corruption and inefficiency that characterizes such local and national governments certainly validates such concerns, then they are likely, as is the case, to view a sudden government appearance in their villages as threatening, which, in turn, facilitates the disease’s further spread.
Influences that combine to shape perceptions, such as the role of women in some Islamic societies, has emerged as a major challenge for both liberal democratic countries and for women’s rights organizations seeking to liberalize such societies. While women in Saudi Arabia are hardly free, and while many chafe at government/mosque-imposed restrictions, such as on their dress and ability to drive, others accept their societies’ restrictions as proper interpretations of Islamic Law and view Western liberalism as anathema to spiritual well-being. In such societies, the confluence of religious interpretations and cultural inhibitions against immodest behavior shapes broader perceptions both of those societies and from those societies.
Perceptual influences simply refers to the baggage we all bring to our perceptions of the world around us. Prior experiences and observations, emotions, philosophical beliefs, and other variables all contribute to perceptions. John Gray’s 1993 bestseller Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, whether one accepts the author’s analysis and conclusions or not, touched an emotional vein for many readers because of his underlying premise that draws strong, fundamental distinctions between the genders that exist whether we want them to or not, and that the key to bridging the gender divide is to acknowledge those differences and adapt accordingly. Gray’s premise, that gender constitutes a perceptual influence, and a powerful one at that, is but one example of such influences that may or may not play a role in how individuals view the world around them.