Perceptual Errors -Types of Perceptual Error | Fundamentals of Organizational Behaviour

Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of sensory information. It is a process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions to give meaning to the external factors or the environment. People generally use a number of shortcuts when they judge others. They are also called perceptual errors or barriers to perceptual accuracy.

Types of Perceptual Errors

The types of perceptual errors are as follows:

1) Selective Perception

Selective perception

Since we can not observe everything going on about us, we engage in selective perception. People selectively interpret what they see on the basis of their interests, background experiences, and attitudes. It is the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that cause emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs. For example, a teacher may have a favorite student because they are biased by in-group favoritism. The teacher ignores the student’s poor attainment.People selectively interpret what they see based on their interests, backgrounds, experiences, and attitudes.

It is possible for bias to occur in decision making due to a wrong interest or attitude of a decision maker, and because of the principle that “we perceive what we prefer to perceive.”.It is impossible to pay attention to everything because we are constantly inundated with sensory information. By scanning our environment, our subconscious mind selects what seems easy to notice. Even then, people tend to see things according to their expectations as well as according to their desires.

Whenever we perceive a situation that looks familiar to us, we often interpret it in light of our past experiences. Because our attention spans are limited, we tend to categorize things by aspects that resemble what we already know, and we save time and energy by assuming the current situation is similar to previous experience. In addition to seeing things the way we expect, we are also prone to seeing things the way we wish they were. People tend to think themselves to be above average in intelligence because they are highly skilled drivers.

This is because we like to believe flattering things about ourselves. We fail to see how our current beliefs conflict with the facts we gather. People who firmly hold onto a specific belief allow it to affect how they see a situation. When a meeting is called to discuss options for a controversial work issue, employees who strongly support one side of the issue may view the meeting in a fundamentally different way. 

2) Halo Effect

Halo EffectIt refers to the tendency of judging the person entirely on the basis of a single trait which may be favorable or unfavorable. Here, a single trait dominates other characteristics of the individual. It helps to judge others quickly. Among other errors of perception, halo error has the most profound/deep impact and implication on an individual’s perception and behavior.

They are not always inaccurate, although, they probably are more often wrong than right.We are influenced by the halo effect when we believe a single characteristic is associated with a number of other desirable qualities. Those who are deemed to be attractive are also generally rated as smart, those with warm dispositions are deemed to be sociable and funny, and those with intelligence are regarded as more able leaders. An individual is evaluated favorably or unfavorably merely on the basis of his or her individual attributes. In our organization, we usually see this type of error at the time of employee selection and when evaluating employee performance.

Managers who limit their evaluation of employees to a single characteristic are distorted by such impression effects. People start judging based on their impressions even before knowing any of the important features. Often, incorrect decisions are made when initial impressions are assumed to have more significance and importance in the decision-making process than later impressions. As a result, judgmental biases are produced. According to the concept of “first impressions are lasting,” this type of bias arises.

Initially, we have intuitive impressions. The workings of our subconscious have detected something about the person which triggers an emotional reaction leading to feelings of liking or disliking. When an initial impression is perceived to be more relevant and important than a later impression in rendering a decision, it is known as a primary influence. The constant message mothers give to their children is to make a good first impression, and evidence shows that first impressions often last a lifetime. First impressions, however, can also be misleading. The presence of certain attributes (such as attractiveness or high energy levels) can lead us to believe that people possessing such positive qualities must also possess other positive traits.

When decision makers consider both situations and people, the primary effect can occur. The first presentation can carry more weight than subsequent presentations when we are exposed to opposing views on a controversial issue. The interviewers tend to make an initial impression of a candidate’s resume after inspecting a few bits of information. It is more common to treat candidates with favorable first impressions and stronger halo expectations pleasantly and tap for confirming information in interviews, instead of treating everyone equally.

Which of the following is an example of a halo effect?

a) A manager receives a new temporary employee who is African American. She automatically assumes the employee will be an underperformer due to his race.
b) A lecturer shows up early and professional dressed to present to a class at the university. The professor knows she will be worth the money to have her enlighten the MBA students.
c) A team lead is interviewing a candidate who is extremely beautiful. He just knows that she will be the right fit for the company and a great addition to his team.
d) A manager is reviewing applicants for a job opening. He turns down one of the candidates after viewing her Facebook page and sees that she recently married another woman.

Which is one effect of the team halo effect?

a)Teams appear to work better than they do
b)Teams never fail
c)Teams lead to greater job satisfaction
d)Teams boost productivity

Halo Effect is related with ______________.

A) performance appraisal
B) wage & salary administration
C) selection
D) transfer

What is the definition of the halo effect?

a) A negative employee rating based on a perceptual distortion.
b)A negative impression of an employee leading to positive bias on the individual’s critical mass rating.
c)A positive impression of an employee leading to bias on the individual’s performance rating.
d) A positive employee rating based on hindsight bias.

3) Stereotyping (Generalizing/Grouping)

StereotypingIn order to simplify matters, we often tend to classify people and events into already known general categories or groups. We put people into a convenient category on the basis of some characteristics (usually ethnic occupational, sexual, etc.) is known as stereotyping. It helps to simplify the complexity. It avoids individual differences and gives a wrong judgment.

For e.g: Indians are quick-tempered, Fat men are Jolly/happy, Americans are ambitious, Chinese are mysterious and Japanese are industrious, etc. The above examples are not always true. They are true in general not in particular.

Stereotyping refers to judging someone based on how one perceives the group that they belong to. Stereotyping bias is also called availability bias. This bias is determined by how information is stored and assessed in our minds. We will perceive information as representative or typical of the class to which it can be assigned, regression to the mean happens when we ignore the fact that the next time we encounter an extreme event, and availability occurs when we can recall a memory more easily because it is vivid or easy to recall, assuming that the information is more typical.

Which of the following is not a product of gender stereotyping?

a) Keisha’s mom encourages her to take home economics over mechanics class so she can please her future husband.
b) A music store employee encourages a young woman to study the piano or flute instead of the drums or guitar.
c) A teacher discourages a female student from entering the military, suggesting nursing school instead.
d) A father buys a basketball hoop for his daughter’s eighth birthday.

Which of the following statements is true with respect to the process of stereotyping?

a. stereotypes are always unfair to women and minorities
b. stereotyping always leads to inaccurate assessments of others
c. stereotypes always cast people in a negative light
d. stereotypes are sometimes accurate

Which of the following statements about stereotyping is true?

A. Stereotyping facilitates better hiring decisions.
B. All stereotypes are positive.
C. All stereotypes are true.
D. Stereotyping requires a great deal of cognitive effort.
E. People are less likely to use stereotypes to judge others when they encounter salient information that is highly inconsistent with a stereotype.

Which emotion makes people stereotype relatively more?

a) Anger
b) Sadness
c) Both
d) Neither

A stereotype is:

A) a belief assigned to an entire group
B) present at birth
C) our actions towards entire groups
D) a perceived threat due to cultural differences in beliefs

Which of the following is not a function of stereotypes?

A. they help us describe in-groups
B. they help us describe out-groups
C. they help us validate our in-group and undervalue out-groups
D. connect to how we think about people and social groups

Which of the following is an example of a stereotype?

A. a perceived threat due to contact with an out-group member
B. anxiety due to contact with a stranger
C. only women make good nurses
D. your negative treatment of an out-group member

Negative stereotypes are:

A. unfavorable perceptions we hold about out-group individuals
B. threats we experience due to our experiences
C. anxiety from real or anticipated contact with an out-group individual
D. perceived threats due to cultural differences in beliefs and practices

The Stereotype Content Model is useful for studies on:

A. symbolic threats
B. inter-group anxiety
C. realistic threats
D. stereotypes

The Stereotype Content Model uses two traits to study stereotypes. They are:

A. warmth and competence
B. warmth and nurturance
C. warmth and power
D. status and power

You are interested in studying stereotypes. Which of the following relates to the dimension warmth in the Stereotype Content Model?

A. a group’s ability to work cooperatively
B. social status
C. power
D. positive attitudes

4) Contrast Effect

Contrast EffectWhen we compare something to something else, the contrast effect distorts our perception of it, intensifying their differences. An explicit or implicit comparison can occur simultaneously or at different times, and it can encompass a variety of traits, from physical traits such as color and taste to abstract qualities such as price and attractiveness.

It is another perceptual error that is very common in our workplace. We don’t evaluate a person in isolation. Contrast effect or error occurs when we evaluate a person’s characteristics that are affected by comparisons with other people recently encountered who rank higher or lower on the same. This type of error is very commonly found when managers go through employment interviews, performance appraisal, etc.

Types of Contrast Effect

a) Positive contrast Effect: An object is perceived as better by comparing it with something worse, which produces a positive contrast effect. When placed next to a book with a boring cover, a book with a positive contrast effect may appear more interesting than usual.

b) Negative contrast Effect: Due to comparison with something better, something is perceived as worse than usual because of a negative contrast effect. If an expensive car is parked next to a car with a negative contrast effect, the latter may appear cheaper than usual.

5) Projection

ProjectionThis is also a very common type of perceptual error. Projection refers to the tendency of the people to see their own traits in other people. It means that, when people make judgments about others, they project their own characteristics into others.

As the saying goes, ‘to an honest man, everybody is honest’ and vice versa.When people assume they are similar to us, it is easy to judge them. We assume, for instance, that others want the same in their jobs, if we want challenge and responsibility.

People tend to attribute their own characteristics to other people if they project their own characteristics onto them. A manager’s involvement in a project compromises their ability to adapt to individual differences. Managers tend to see people as more homogeneous than they actually are. Presentation effects occur when the information we receive influences how we make decisions.

In working toward a final decision, we often start with an initial value and adjust as we progress. The human mind has a limited capacity for processing short-term information. Human minds are limited in their short-term information processing capacity, so decision makers tend to concentrate on the most important aspects of a situation to make decisions. Even the most outrageously extreme anchors can unknowingly sway our judgments, according to research. 

6) Impression

ImpressionThere is a popular saying that ‘the first impression is the last impression’. We frequently form the impression of others at first sight. Even before knowing any of their personality traits, they start having impressions and perceive thereby.

This sometimes leads to perceptual distortion. This error may create biasness while performing a performance appraisal.


Examples are:

  • First bench students disciplined and intelligent
  • Last bench students undisciplined and weak

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Passive Perception


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