We come across several images on social media every day where our perspectives might be completely different from those of others. There have been times when we would compare clouds to objects, and times where the slightest movements of the curtains could make it feel like someone is lurking in the shadows. This phenomenon is known as motivated perception.
Psychology suggests that the world around us is not exactly how we perceive it through our eyes. Our perception is often biased or selective because we’re under the impression that what we see is what we get. But in reality, our perception is greatly influenced by our interests, motivations, past experiences, expectations, and several other factors. The perception we have in our minds often impacts the way we respond to the world around us.
Taking the example of a football game between Dartmouth and Princeton Universities back in 1951, players from both sides suffered serious injuries as a result of on-pitch aggression. Once the game was all wrapped up, each side blamed the other for initiating violence. Two psychologists, one from each team joined hands to conduct a simple test. The college students from the two universities were asked to review the highlights of the game and come to a neutral conclusion as to who started the conflict; with most of the Princeton fans blaming Dartmouth and vice versa. The game they were shown was in fact different each time, with each version and the events that transpired in them considered to be just as ‘real’ to a particular person as other versions were to other people.
In another classic experiment, the participants were deprived of food for several hours. Later on, when the participants were shown a set of ambiguous images, those who were starving were far more likely to interpret the images as food-related objects. Their hunger motivated the participants to see the images in a certain way.
There are several similar studies which suggest that we look at the world the way we want to; with many scientific theories evolving to explain our biased perceptions. One of which elaborates on how the visual information that enters the brain is processed in two lobes, namely the Ventral Stream - which is responsible to interpret what we are looking at, and the Dorsal Stream - which is responsible to interpret where the particular scene is taking place. The neurons in these streams can be influenced by attention and reward systems and this is reflected in our responses.
To conclude, we must accept the fact that, what we perceive from instances around us isn’t always the truth. Looks like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s advice on how our eyes deceive us, holds true outside of Star Wars after all!