What is Visual Perception? Why is Visual Perception Such a Difficult Task to Engage In?
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What is Visual Perception? Why is Visual Perception Such a Difficult Task to Engage In?

What is Visual Perception? Why is visual perception a difficult task to engage in?

Visual perception is the ability to determine what things are as a result of light being sent into the eye. We can generally decide, via cognitive processes in the brain, what a thing is, or what it could be, what shape, color and size it is, and how far away from us the object is (spatial perception). When we identify what a particular thing is, we can decide how to interact with it. We might need to walk around it, and we can decide whether or not we want to touch it.

The example of a robotic vehicle (Willingham, 2007, p.68), clearly points out why our ability to perceive things is a complex skill that is not easily replicated. “It’s clear that a robot could turn a steering wheel and press an accelerator; the problem is that there is no computer that can rapidly perceive the road, other cars, pedestrians, and so on” (Willingham, 2007, p.68).

Humans have the ability to see things that are off to the side of an object without actually looking directly at it. The object of focus can often be identified by its location and its relevance to things around it, including ourselves. This ability is known as peripheral vision. We see things and remain aware of them, even though they are not the focal point of vision at the time. Evolution theories would likely explain this capability as safety mechanism to warn of impending danger. Some things we identify outside of the direct line of vision might be out of place, but we still manage to figure out what they are relevant to their surroundings.

Why is visual perception such a difficult task to engage in?

Information we have about what see is indeterminate (Willingham, p. 72). Shape, size, color, shadow, and reflection help us to perceive three dimensional objects when our eye receives only two-dimensional information about the object. If we possessed only some of this information, for example, red, and square, we would not be able to determine whether a car is really a car, or whether it is just something else that is red and square-shaped.

We also wouldn’t know whether it was close to us and what we saw was its actual size, or whether it was a long way away and perhaps it would be bigger than a car when it came closer to us. It is necessary for our brain to consider all these variables to identify the object, and this makes visual perception difficult. Fortunately, we can usually figure out what the object is, relevant to information we gather about the objects around it.


Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall

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Comments (2)

An excellent article. Voted up.

Ranked #13 in Psychology

Thank you so much, Elizabeth!