According to Goldstein (2010) and Yantis (2014), who are leading researchers in the field of perceptual psychology, the perceptual process refers to the way that we acquire information from our surroundings, in order to create meaning.
In more precise terms, "information from our environment" means every single stimulus that gets to our senses. This involves everything: noises, smells, words, tastes, emotions, and things we can touch.
The way to figure out what each stimulus is, is by processing these sensations in our brain, making connections to what we already know (our schema), and deciding their meaning.
The process is ongoing, which means that in a healthy brain, it should be an automatic and instant process. It takes fragments of a second to go through the entire perception process. According to an article by MIT News, it takes "as little as 13 milliseconds" to complete it.
Example: Joey has to guess what is inside a bag. He places his hand inside the mystery bag, without knowing what it is. He feels something fuzzy, warm, and soft. He still doesn't know what it is, but then he hears it making a squeaky sound. It also moves, and Joey can feel the bag moving. Joey interprets that it must be a living thing after receiving the stimuli of sound, touch, and hearing. His schema discovered the meaning of what is in the bag through the perceptual process.
If Joey's schema (previous knowledge) is that this small, furry, moving, living thing could be dangerous or may bite him, he will immediately remove his hand away from the bag. He may even scream in fear. All of this takes place in "as little as 13 milliseconds,"in a functioning brain.
The perceptual process did all of that. Therefore, the factors that influence this process are:
- The "perceiver." The person who will undergo the perception process, like Joey.
- The object/target in question (the little furry animal.) It is called the "perceived."
- The situation in which the perception will take place. In this case, the situation was guessing what is inside a bag. This is known as the "setting."
However, the process is not limited to those three factors. Assuming that the brain is operating optimally and without any stimulants or depressants, such as drugs or alcohol, other things also take place right after receiving the input, or stimulus:
Selection - Or, deciding what the object is. This will depend on external factors, such as the features of the object that makes it recognizable. Internal factors include the perceiver's schema, or personal knowledge, about what the stimulus could be. In the previous example, the internal factors made the tester of the mystery bag remove his hand when he realized through external factors that it was a live, small, furry animal.
Organization - This is where we group, approximate, and give closure to the meaning. In the previous example, the bag tester immediately grouped the thing inside the bag as a "living, furry, small" thing and approximated to something that could bite. At some point, the tester will decide whether it was a rat, or something else inside the bag. This is the closure.
Interpretation - Once it is decided what the stimulus is, then we interpret it based on how we organized the information.
Our brains are very powerful things!