Selective Perception and Leadership

By Portes, Dan | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), January 5, 2017 | Go to article overview

Selective Perception and Leadership


Portes, Dan, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


I am keenly aware that people who are having a conflict often have difficulty resolving their differences because of their refusal to listen and understand the other person's positions and underlying motivations.

When they are in the middle of a battle, each side usually is thinking of additional points to reinforce their opinion and desired outcome but rarely are they listening and trying to understand what is being said to them by their challenger. There also are other reasons why people have difficulty resolving conflict and it's because of a phenomenon called selective perception.

This is the process by which individuals perceive what they want to hear in a message while ignoring opposing viewpoints.

It is a broad term to identify the behavior all people exhibit as we all tend to "see things" based on our personal frame of reference. Using selective perception, people tend to overlook or forget information that contradicts their beliefs or expectations.

There are two types of selective perception. Perceptual vigilance refers to people noticing stimuli such as advertising or news reports that are significant to them. For example, someone considering buying a certain brand of car is more likely to notice ads about the car than someone who is neutral to the brand.

In contrast, perceptual defense refers to people creating a barrier to screen out stimuli they find threatening or unpleasant. For example, a smoker might filter out a photo of a diseased lung.

A classic study that illustrates both types of selective perception happened when students at Princeton and Dartmouth universities watched a film of a football game between the two schools. The Princeton students noticed more penalties committed by Dartmouth, and the Dartmouth students noticed more penalties by Princeton. Each group judged the football game depending on their team allegiance and ignored evidence that contradicted what they wanted to see.

Experts say that the factors influencing selective perception include previous experience, attitudes, conditioning, gender, age, race and emotional state. …

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