2.2 What are the Stages of Perception?

Jan 12, 2020 | ch2 Perception & Sensation, Cognitive Psychology, Courses

Perception refers to the way individuals experience or give meaning to information and events, and perception differs from person to person. This lesson will discuss the five stages of perception and will end with a quiz to test your knowledge.

The Stages of Perception

What do you see in the photograph below? How would you describe what you see to another person? What does the image mean to you?

This photograph will be perceived very differently by different people

 When we look at something we use perception, or personal understanding. There are five states of perception which are: stimulation, organization, interpretation, memory, and recall.

Stimulation and Organization


The process of perception begins with the stimulation of the senses. When looking at a picture, we’re using our eyes which use photoreceptors to take in the information. Photoreceptors are a special kind of sensory receptor that processes light for vision. However, sight is only one of five kinds of perception. Perception occurs in all the five senses including sight, taste, hearing, smell, and touch. Sensory receptors send information to the brain for processing. In the case of this photograph, the photoreceptors detect light and send it to the brain for processing. Therefore, the first stage of perception begins with the senses. We must first sense stimuli before we can perceive. So when you see a picture, smell an apple pie cooking, hear a train whistle, taste a slice of pizza, or touch a hot stove, you are perceiving all of those things with your sensory receptors.

What if you didn’t look at the above image at all? If that were the case, you would not be able to describe what the image is or how you feel about it. If we do not attend to stimuli, then we cannot perceive stimuli; thus attention is a critical factor in the process of perception. Receiving and attending to stimuli is the first stage in perception.


Once we collect stimulus information from the senses, we have to try to make sense of it. This is called organization. The information is sent to the brain, where it is compared against previous knowledge. This helps us organize the information by fitting it with similar information. This linking or organizing of information helps us understand what is happening. Organization is the second stage of perception.

Interpretation, Memory, and Recall


Now, let’s focus on your description of what you see in the above photograph, which we call interpretation. Do you think you will describe it in the same way as another person? Do you think this photograph means the same thing to you as it does to others? How would a citizen of Afghanistan describe this photograph compared to someone from Milwaukee? Of course, there will be major differences in the way this photograph is viewed because we are all different and have very unique experiences. For example, you may or may not know that United States Marines are featured in this photograph. Perhaps you know someone who is a Marine. This could impact the way you describe the photograph. Interpretation of information is the third stage in perception.


Previous experiences, beliefs, and expectations based on our memory influence our perception of things. More specifically, our memories of the aforementioned things shape our perceptions and storage of new experiences. While several people might see the same photograph, they will likely perceive different things, describe it in different ways, and associate different feelings, despite the fact that they are looking at the same photograph. These differences are due to differences in memory. This is the fourth stage in perception: memory.


Finally, if we are to understand and process the perceived information fully in the future, it must be stored in our memory. This permanent storage of the information enables us to recall, or remember it at a later time. Recall is the final stage in perception.

Lesson Summary

When we look at something we use perception, or personal understanding. There are five states of perception, which are: stimulation, organization, interpretation, memory, and recall. We experience perception through all of the five senses using sensory receptors in our bodies.

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