Cultivated Perception

Lots of psychology isn’t rocket science – it’s not exactly stuff you couldn’t have figured out yourself if you’d have thought about it for long enough. Often the conclusions from some area of investigation are explained to you and you think ‘Well, hey, that’s obvious’. And of course there’s an argument that true answers often should be obvious, once you’ve been told them.

One of the the things I hoped we could do with Mind Hacks was give people framworks for looking at how our minds work, and how we interact with the environment, so that it becomes easier to spot the obvious in advance. After all, we all have minds, so we all have access to the raw data to draw the conclusions – it’s just that there are many things you don’t notice until you’ve learnt to see them. (Until someone stops me i’m going to call this ‘cultivated perception’).

So, I should be working on designed a questionnaire (a sign that I committed grevious sins in a past life?) and I noticed how I could improve it with a little lesson from Chapter 8 of the book.

Essentially, Chapter 8 is about ‘togetherness’ – how our brain constantly works to organise what we perceive into groups. A simple example is by proximity.


On the left you see three rows, on the right – which is the same but with less vertical spacing – you see four columns. Your brain did this for you automatically, you don’t get a choice about whether you see it as rows or columns, and you certainly don’t get the choice of seeing them as just an unorganised collection of little boxes.

If you don’t believe me, notice as well that you understood automatically that ‘on the left’ means the 12 left-most boxes, and ‘on the right’ means the 12 right-most. Why two lots of 12 rather than, say four lots of six, or 24 lots of one? Grouping by proximity again.

Anyway, since this kind of perceptual organisation is automatic, it’s worth looking out for and/or using when you notice an opportunity. And this is where my point about cultivated perception comes in. While designing the questionnaire I wasn’t quiet happy with the lay-out of some of the response boxes. I’m trying to keep it well spaced, avoiding clutter, but something was bugging me. Then I noticed that, perceptually, I wasn’t automatically grouping the answers with their appropriate tick boxes. Just a small change made, and I think it looks a whole lot better. Have a look, the first question is the original, the second my adjusted version.


There’s lots lots more about grouping in the book, and a couple of good links to get you started are here and here

2 thoughts on “Cultivated Perception”

  1. This is quite interesting! I recall watching — when I was very young — a television show on which scientists were using a pupil-tracking device to monitor the areas of an image at which a viewed was looking, and to determine the pupil’s “path” through the image. You note: “Then I noticed that, perceptually, I wasn’t automatically grouping the answers with their appropriate tick boxes.” Do you feel that this pupil-path notion is identical to, or perhaps, another aspect of, your notions about grouping of objects and cultivated perception? Is pupil path cultivated? (When I read a question in a questionnaire, irrespective of the fact tht I know it is a questionnaire, my pupil spills past the question mark looking for the next sentence; the shorter the “pupil drop” to the tick boxes, the more _embedded_ I feel in the question — in a sense, the tick boxes are just part of an interactive sentence.) ||| :] ||| gabriel

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