Studies in Personnel and Industrial Psychology

By Edwin A. Fleishman | Go to book overview

tragic and well-nigh fatal failures of communication which threathen the very existence of our modern world? It seems to me that this is a possibility and a challenge which we should explore.


43. Selective Perception: The Departmental
Identifications of Executives*

DeWitt C. Dearborn and Herbert A. Simon

AN IMPORTANT proposition in organization theory asserts that each executive will perceive those aspects of the situation that relate specifically to the activities and goals of his department.1 The proposition is frequently supported by anecdotes of executives and observers in organizations, but little evidence of a systematic kind is available to test it. It is the purpose of this note to supply some such evidence.

The proposition we are considering is not peculiarly organizational. It is simply an application to organizational phenomena of a generalization that is central to any explanation of selective perception: Presented with a complex stimulus, the subject perceives in it what he is "ready" to perceive; the more complex or ambiguous the stimulus, the more the perception is determined by what is already "in" the subject and the less by what is in the stimulus.2

Cognitive and motivational mechanisms mingle in the selective process, and it may be of some use to assess their relative contributions. We might suppose either: (1) selective attention to a part of a stimulus reflects a deliberate ignoring of the remainder as irrelevant to the subject's goals and motives, or (2) selective attention is a learned response stemming from some past history of reinforcement. In the latter case we might still be at some pains to determine the nature of the reinforcement, but by creating a situation from which any immediate motivation for selectivity is removed, we should be able to separate the second mechanism from the first. The situation in which we obtained our data meets this condition, and hence our data provide evidence for internalization of the selective processes.

____________________
*
From "Selective Perception: A Note on the Departmental Identifications of Executives," Sociometry, Vol. 21, No. 2, June, 1958.
1
H. A. Simon, Administrative Behavior ( New York: Macmillan, 1947), ch. 5, 10.
2
J. S. Brunet, "On Perceptual Readiness," Psychological Review, Vol. 64, 1957. pp. 132-33.

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