Understanding ‘Perception’

This is the first post in a series of posts all about how we perceive the world around us. So why spend so much time on something so apparently irrelevant to mental health and therapy? Well that’s because at the heart of many underlying issues such as anxiety and depression or panic is how we perceive things or, more importantly, the ‘meaning’ we attribute to what we experience.

Basics of Perception

Perception is like your brain’s superpower that helps you understand and make sense of the world around you. It’s the way you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell things. But it’s not just about sensing stuff; it’s also about interpreting and understanding what those sensations mean.

Think of it like this: imagine you’re watching a magic trick. Your eyes see the magician waving a wand, your ears hear the audience gasping, and your hands might even feel a breeze from the trick. All these sensations come together in your brain, and it’s your brain’s job to figure out what’s happening. It’s like a puzzle solver, putting all the pieces together to understand that the magician is making something disappear.

But here’s the important part: everyone’s perception is a bit different. Just like how you might see colors differently from your friend, or how some people might love the taste of a food while others don’t, our brains interpret sensations in unique ways based on our experiences and how our brain is wired.

So, perception is basically your brain’s way of making sense of the world by combining all your senses and past experiences to understand what’s happening around you and how you should respond.

Creative forecast. Four different weather conditions with human mood on gray background, panorama

The Meaning is the Feeling

So here is the really important part – how you feel can significantly impact how you perceive day-to-day life through the lens of several cognitive processes including, affective forecasting, emotional contagion, and cognitive appraisal.

  1. Affective Forecasting: This refers to the process of predicting how we will feel in the future. Our current emotional state can bias these predictions, leading us to overestimate or underestimate how events will impact our mood. For example, if you’re feeling happy, you might anticipate that a future event will also make you feel happy, even if that’s not the case.
  2. Emotional Contagion: Emotions can be contagious, meaning that the emotions of those around us can influence our own mood. If you’re surrounded by people who are cheerful and optimistic, you’re more likely to perceive your day-to-day life positively. Conversely, being around individuals who are stressed or upset can color your own perceptions negatively.
  3. Cognitive Appraisal: How we interpret events is influenced by our emotional state. The same situation can be perceived differently depending on whether we’re feeling happy, sad, anxious, or angry. For instance, receiving constructive criticism might be seen as an opportunity for growth when you’re feeling confident, but it could be perceived as a personal attack when you’re feeling insecure.

In summary, how you feel can alter your perception of day-to-day life by shaping your expectations, influencing your interactions with others, and affecting how you interpret events and situations. Being mindful of your emotions and their impact on perception can help you navigate life with greater awareness and resilience.

To find out more about exactly what is happening behind the scenes to govern your emotional state and perception read part 2 of this guide on the Limbic System