Do we really perceive people the way we think we do?

Perception is when the brain organises information and translates it into something meaningful. We all have perceptual expectancy, which is where we perceive the world based on our past experiences, culture and biological makeup. We perceive ourselves differently to how we perceive others. How many of you thought that someone was over-reacting when they got a minor cut? Yet you were annoyed at how no-one took you seriously when it happened to you?

We assume that people are just living the same lives we see them living when we pass them on the street. The majority of time this is untrue. A famous social experiment that was done recently was the world famous violinist Joshua Bell busking for coins at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, only to be ignored by virtually everyone who passed. The experiment was videotaped on hidden camera and of the 1,097 people who passed by, only seven stopped to listen to him, and only one recognized him. For his 45-minute performance, Bell collected $32.17 from 27 people who passed by. He wore his trademark untucked shirt and a baseball cap. No one applauded, neither was there any recognition. The sad truth is that if we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, how many other things are we missing?

Another way we perceive people is with the bystander effect. This shows that the greater numbers of people who are present, the less likely people are to help someone in need. In an emergency situation more action is taken if there are fewer witnesses. An example to show this is the brutal murder of a woman named Catherine Genovese. She was approaching her apartment entrance when she was attacked and stabbed. Despite her calls for help, none of the people in the nearby apartments who heard her cries called police to report the incident.

People try and behave in socially acceptable ways and sometimes this can lead to people not helping others or ignoring people on the street. Modern society has changed and can sometimes distort our perceptions of others, e.g youths are now often associated with violence and being a ‘yob’.

In conclusion, the way we perceive people is different to the way that we want to. In reality our perception of the world is one of belonging, of wanting to be accepted by society, even though we believe ourselves to be unique and to stand out from everyone else.


Brookes, S. (2012). Music Review: Joshua Bell at the Kennedy Centre. Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (n.d). What is the Bystander Effect. Retrieved February 19th, 2012, from


Posted on February 19, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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