Do you see what I see?

It’s been great to see how different people have responded to the penguins in the art gallery image. I even received this lovely artwork designed by Tom, emailed by Emma. Thanks for sharing Emma!

perceptual bias

It’s made me think deeply about the fact that we can never really tell how another person is ‘reading’ an image because our views are always distorted by our own perceptual bias. In other words, we all view the world through a lens made up of our experiences in the world. As Anais Nin said so eloquently…

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are”.

I have been reading a book by Ken Robinson called ‘The element: how finding your passion changes everything’ and in it he talks about the impact of our cultural background on how we view the world. A number of studies have found that people raised in Western societies have a very different way of reading images to people from Asian communities where there is more of an emphasis on the community. When shown an image of a tiger in the jungle, people raised in Western cultures are likely to describe the image as being of ‘a tiger’. People raised in cultures where there are strong family and community ties are much more likely to say that the image depicts ‘a jungle with a tiger in it,’ or ‘a tiger in a jungle’.

What does this mean for people like us who are striving for simplicity and clarity? First of all we have to examine our own perceptual biases. Obviously we shouldn’t do this to the point of paralysis. If we stop too long to think about all the ways something can possibly be interpreted then we might end up doing nothing at all. But it is a good idea to be mindful of difference and to be open to other people’s interpretation of what we present. This means that when you are running your slides past a colleague and they completely misread the point you are making, you need to stop and listen and explore how and why they are interpreting your information the way they are. There’s every chance that they will bring a fresh new interpretation to your work.

This is what your comments have done for me and I’m really grateful. Thanks.


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