Sunday, May 6, 2012

Selective Perception

Communication studies, and other areas of study for example psychology and sociology, examine the phenomenon of selectivity in listening and human interaction.  There is selective exposure, attention, perception, and retention.  In a nutshell you expose yourself to messages that you might want to hear, pay attention to what you desire to, perceive meaning by filtering out that which is not palatable and remember what you want.  The classic example academics like to use occurs when a student asks what she or he needs to pass a course. The professor replies, "well you have not attended  the class except for one time when you were lookng at your blackberry, don't seem to listen, and have not scored well on all the other exams.  I guess it's not impossible that you could pass if you somehow reverse direction and study like mad for the final but it is highly unlikely."  If the student leaves and says to her or himself, "no problem, all I have to do is study and I will pass" you have an example of selective perception.

It's easy to shake your head when you hear such a story, but the fact is that if you are someone who selectively perceives you may be unaware of the tendency. And if you are unaware of your tendencies you could go through life assuming that you listen dispassionately and are not filtering out what you don't want to hear. 

I think what makes people successful in life is their willingness to look themselves in the mirror and ask if they hear just what they want to hear or listen to it all even when "all" can be bruising.   Athletes who will not hear that they have a weakness when they bat, will always blame something for their low batting average.  The ones who listen to coaching can remedy the problems.  The same is true outside the arena.  When someone tells you that you have been a goof, and you should know better because you are smart--you can't walk away thinking that the other thinks you are smart if you want to avoid a goofball tag.

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