Perception and inter-cultural communication
¡°The moon is a rocky physical sphere that orbits the Earth; yet when looking at this object, many Americans often see a man in the moon, many Native Americans perceive a rabbit, Chinese claim a lady is fleeing her husband, and Samoans report a woman weaving¡±(Samovar 56). For Americans, a ¡°V¡± sign made with two fingers usually represents victory. Australians equate this gesture with a rude American gesture usually made with the middle finger. Most Asians respond negatively to white flowers because white is associated with death. For Peruvians, Iranians, and Mexicans, yellow flowers often invoke the same reaction. In these three examples, the external objects (moons, hands, flowers) were the same, yet the responses are different. The reason is perception. Perception is the means by which we make sense of our physical and social world. That is to say, it is the process by which we become aware of objects, events, and especially people and their behavior through our various senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. In this process, we meditate our information about and knowledge of our external physical and social world and thus form our own images of that world. Perception is about the way in which we think about the outside world and can therefore decide the way in which we behave and communicate with other people. In this sense, we can say that perception plays a big role in the process of communication. It not only decides our behavior, but also keeps us doing in that way. Therefore, in order to be an effective communicator, one first has to have a better understanding of perception. First, let¡¯s have a close look at the process of perception. Generally speaking, the process of perception occurs in three stages. And instead of being mutually excluded, these stages are ¡°continuous and blend into one another¡± (DeVito 33). In the first stage, sensory stimulation occurs. During the whole period, as we have mentioned at the beginning, our sense organs are stimulated. You hear Backstreet Boy¡¯s new record; you see someone you haven¡¯t seen for years; you smell perfume on the person next to you; you taste a juicy steak; and you feel a sweaty palm as you shake hands. Naturally, you do not perceive everything; rather, you engage in selective perception (DeVito 33). For example, when you are daydreaming in class, you do not hear what the teacher is saying until your own name is called. Then you wake up. You know the teacher called your name, but you do not know why. This is a clear example of selective perception. In this case, you perceive what is meaningful to you at this moment and do not perceive what is not meaningful. You are also more likely to perceive stimuli that are greater in intensity than surrounding stimuli and those that have novelty value (Lahey 165). For example, television commercials normally play at a greater intensity than regular programming to insure that you take special notice of them. You are also more likely to notice the student who dresses in a novel way rather than the one who dresses like everyone else. You will quickly perceive someone who shows up in class wearing a tuxedo or at a formal party in shorts. In a word, you perceive only a very small portion of what you could perceive. Just as there are limits on how far you can see there are also limits on the quantity of stimulation you can take in at any given time. The second stage is that of the organization of the sensory stimulation. This perceptual organization helps us to place people, information, and objects by association. Usually, the sensory stimulation is organized in some way according to certain principles. Two principles, proximity and resemblance, will illustrate how sensory stimuli might be organized. According to the principle of proximity, you perceive as a group those persons who are physically close together. You see them as having...
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