Perceptual Fallacies

by smartamarketing

Understanding Perception in Buyer and Consumer Behaviour is Very Important

Our normal perceptions do not correspond directly to reality. The things that we percieve (see, hear, smell etc.) are not entirely determined by what our senses detect. Our perceptions are also determined by what we expect, what we know, what we believe.

  • Our perceptions are not photographs, they are constructions – something that our minds manufacture.
  • What we perceive is partially determined by what we know or believe.
  • Constructive perception has survival value – it helps us make sense of the world
  • Seeing is not necessarily believing. Here’s why:

Perceptual Constancies

Our tendency to have perceptual experiences in the absence of stimuli

  • Colour constancy
    • We often perceive an object to be a color because we expect it to be a certain colour.
    • We also perceive colour sometimes when it is physically impossible.  The vision cells in the center of the retina are the only ones that can see colour. Therefore, we should only see colour in the center of our visual field. Objects in our peripheral vision should not appear in colour. But we see colour through the field. Why? Colour constancy!
  • Size constancy – learned perception (does a truck driving in the distance get smaller?)
    • You percieve the size of familiar objects (like a truck) to be the same size no matter how far away they are because you know that distance doesn’t change the size of an object. However, the size of the image on your retina shrinks as an object moves away from you.

Expectation – We perceive what we expect to perceive

  • Flashing light experiment- subjects were told to walk down a hall and stop walking when they saw a light flash. Many subjects stopped walking despite the fact that no flash was given. They simply expected a flash and believed they saw one. Similar experiments have shown subjects who could feel warmth, smell an odor, or feel an electric shock because they expected to.
  • We have all experienced such hallucinations. Have you ever seen the hands on a clock move only to find out that the clock didn’t run? Have you ever heard the phone ring when you were in the shower, but later found it had not rung at all?
  • What other experiences have you had that may have been due to expectation?

Looking for Clarity in Vagueness

When our senses are confronted with a formless stimulus, we often perceive something distinct. We look at clouds, smoke, fuzzy paintings and see shapes that are familiar. This illusion is called pareidolia. Many cases of pareidolia are common:

  • Man in the Moon – a cultural example
    • Samoans see a woman weaving
    • Chinese see a monkey pounding rice
  • Messages in rock music played backwards
  • Man in the shadows – Do you ever feel as though someone is following you?
  • UFOs – we try to make something familiar out of a vague object.


Our memories are consturctive, not literal

Imagine a scene…How do you look at it? Recall a scene – do you look at it through your own eyes?

Selective memory – Dreams, we have over 250 a night but only remember a few of them.


We can lead ourselves to believe that something is paranormal or supernatural when it actually isn’t.


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