Perception (especially the difference between self-perception and how others see us) is a topic I find fascinating and could go on and on about; in fact, I have done so several times on my blog: here, here and here.
Recently, I was once again strongly reminded of the subject by two situations that occurred with RJ at work. The week before last, I left the office on Friday, looking like this:
Saturday morning, I went to the hairdresser's, and when RJ next saw me on the following Tuesday at the office, I looked like this:
You guessed it - he never even noticed I'd had my hair cut. One of the ladies working there remarked upon my much shorter hair when we bumped into her at the coffee machine (which is traditionally the place in all offices where the really important information is exchanged), and only then did RJ notice he hadn't noticed :-)
Never mind - he just looks at me in a different way. If he had to report me missing, he wouldn't be able to describe my outfit of the day; he'd be very well able to describe my body, though, and how he perceives my personality.
Then last week, we had a meeting with two of the people at our customer's office; we needed their input for a specific project we are working on at the moment. One of them was a lady I had not met yet, and while she was listening to RJ's explanations and answering his questions (I was there mainly to protocol what was being said), I had plenty of time to study her looks, her gesturing and facial expression. When RJ and I summed up the meeting afterwards, I mentioned a few details about her (grey stretch trousers, huge belt buckle and a necklace with an equally huge pendant, among other things), and was not amazed that he had not noticed a single one of them. Of course, he had been focusing more on what she said than on what she wore, but as I said, this incident made me realize once more how different we are in which and how many things we notice about our environment and the people around us.
Do you have an eye for detail, or do you rather go by a more general impression of your surroundings?
We fear that RJ's failure to notice detail could well be something said of us. We often think that we would make exceptionally poor police witnesses, even if we had been at the scene of the crime and had observed much of what was happening.
Hello Jane and Lance, your perception of detail is exceptional - that is, I think, obvious from your blog posts.Delete
As for being reliable witnesses when it comes to police work, I often think police officers must despair when they listen to people's description of other people and events! Human memory is a wonderful and fascinating feature of our species, but it can hardly be called accurate.
As a writer an eye for detail is very important, it what bring a story to life, but at the end of the day it is what detail is important at which time, I.E the police may feel every detail of what the person was wearing, colour of hair eyes make of car, voice etc are all important to build up a picture of who they are looking for, but as a storywriter you need to be careful not to overload the reader with too much information at one time. It's all about a time and place for everything.ReplyDelete
Have a great day.
You are so right, Paula, it is all about context - what is really important at a certain time. Sometimes I may become so destracted with details that I fail to "get the message", and may even seem unattentive to someone who is speaking to me - it is usually the wrong impression, since I only very rarely am truly not listening to someone speaking to me.Delete
My DH would only notice my hair if I had it all cut off! I probably wouldn't notice small details of someone's clothes, or at least I wouldn't remember them, but I would certainly know whether I liked them and whether they looked good. Impressions rather than details, I think. probably because I'm not much interested in clothes in any case. :-).ReplyDelete
Your approach of going by a general impression which can later be filled with detail is very reasonable!Delete
At first glance at your photos and without knowing the "point" you had in mind, I have to say I did not notice your haircut either. Maybe in real life I would have, but I can't swear to it. I'm sure I'd be useless as a police witness - unless I happened to have my camera with me! It's not that I have no eye for detail, but I think I most of us filter out impressions, and the filters differ from person to person, but also according to situation. We notice what we're interested in, or what stands out to us. For example, if I'm out walking with the camera I might stop for a shadow on a wall, a reflection in a puddle on the pavement, or a butterfly landing on a flower... And yet if someone asked me when I got back how many people I met along the way, I probably wouldn't have a clue. (Unless I was out on purpose to study people, or one of them had a purple punk haircut, or something...)ReplyDelete
That is exactly what fascinates me so much about the subject of perception, Monica - how we differ from each other in that respect, and how different we may perceive the same scene through different filters, even the same person using different filters.Delete
I remember vividly how, when I was 8 years old and my sister broke her arm and had to wear a plaster, I suddenly noticed people wearing plasters everywhere. Of course there had not all of a sudden been more accidents happening than usual, it was just my filter that made me notice them.
Well, perception, at least from a visual perspective is a pretty poor thing anyway. We only "see" a small part of the world and our eyeballs are always scanning in saccas so there are times when we are not actually seeing anything and our brains are filling in the gaps with "best guesses". This is poorly recognised mostly and so people believe they have a seamless, continuous experience of the world. But they don't (for instance, have you ever looked at a clock's second hand and it appears not to have moved for more than a second? That is your brain doing its "filling in" thing). And what we fill it in with depends on what we expect to be there, which put its own interpretation on things. (see "change blindness". There are some wonderful examples of this).ReplyDelete
So, really the surprise is that we notice very much at all. This has profound implications for eyewitness testimony that I shudder when I think about about.
Yes, it is most intriguing, isn't it? I've read the odd article and book about how our minds work in completing (and sometimes even replacing) what the rest of our senses register, and you are right - it is amazing that we notice much at all, and sometimes even correctly :-)Delete
Sorry, the word "saccades" got truncated by some strange decision by software or fate or something.ReplyDelete
If I am interested I can be hyper-perceptive, but when not I can miss seeing things. My kids tease me that a new three story building can go up in our area and I might not notice it for months. The comments from PerlNumquist sound very interesting.ReplyDelete
The wikipedia article about change blindness is very interesting, but it is not a new thing that we have known eyewitness accounts are unreliable. There are psychology classes where someone ( for an experiment) would run in with a gun and there would be some interaction and then that person might rush out of the room. When the students are asked to write or tell what they had seen it is amazing that so much is remembered incorrectly. I feel as though I heard of this nearly fifty years ago when I was in college.ReplyDelete
Sorry to be commenting so many times. This is a very interesting topic. Far from questions of a haircut is this story. My husband was the family historian for his family which had escaped from Hungary in '56, after the Hungarian Revolution. Many years later he was writing an account of how the family reached the decision to do this and we were amazed what different memories people seemed to have of something really important that they were all part of.ReplyDelete
Kristi, please do not refrain from commenting on any topic here that interests you; you know that comments mean a lot to me, and I love it when some sort of dialogue or even discussion takes place!Delete
These family stories remembered very different by different family members are certainly something we have all encountered.
On a slightly different note, sometimes my Mum surprises me by mentioning some event or other from my childhood or youth, and not only do I remember it a bit different, but until she mentioned it again, I didn't even remember that I remembered it at all... does that make sense?
Indeed, and there is always the Gorilla experiment to highlight the issue (I am sure you have heard of it). There is a wonderful illustration in an experiment where a bloke is stopped in the street by someone with a clipboard who asks him to answer some questions. Halfway through the questioning, two chaps with a big sheet of plywood walk between them and another man with a clipboard quietly takes the place of the first. And, yes, you guessed: A significant number of people don't notice. Unless incidentally, the first clipboard dude is of the same age as the interviewee, the hypothesis being this could be a potential rival and hence best noted. I do love being sentient. It has its limits, as described, but what a wonderful machine the brain is!ReplyDelete
It is indeed, Pete! And had you not mentioned the plywood/clipboard experiment, I would have done so in my reply to Kristi.Delete
Well, i have to admit i generalize; i might not have noticed the hair cut, either. Once i commented to my mother that no one was going to notice that she had worn the same shoes to a previous event at church, and she said, "Yes, they will! I know I would notice if another woman was wearing the same shoes with two different outfits!" Such a thing never occurred to me.ReplyDelete
Like your mother, I would have noticed, too - but I would not have thought any less of the person wearing the same pair of shoes twice, since I do it all the time. But maybe I would not have been able to recall much else of the event, which is a shame and makes me wish I could broaden my mental horizon at will.Delete
How interesting!! You know, with Daniel and me, he will notice every detail about a person or about scenery, as though he were studying it for a sketch. I, on the other hand, won't be able to tell you much about the appearance of a person, but I can tell you exactly how they are feeling at the moment and sometimes what's going on in their lives. The same with scenery - it evokes a feeling in me rather than has me looking at the details. It's fascinating, isn't it?ReplyDelete
Ganz liebe Gruesse! Silke
P.S. Your short hair looks great on you! :)
Vielen Dank, liebe Silke :-)Delete
I'm glad that you find this topic interesting, and you and Daniel seem to be at the two extreme ends of the perceptive scale - which probably is one reason why you are so good together.
Is there something different in those two photos? I always make sure I know when Jo is going to the hairdresser's so I can remember to look for the difference (and comment even if I don't see one). The hardest bit is knowing if she considers that particular visit a success!ReplyDelete
Ah, but you surely can read her facial expression, John!Delete
I've just remembered - there is a detail about people I, strangely, hardly ever remember: the colour of their eyes. Seriously, I know the eye colour of only very few people very close to me, such as my parents, my sister and RJ. Even about my girlfriends, whom I see regularly once a month and have known for donkeys years, I can't say. And it does certainly NOT mean I don't look at them when we sit together and talk!
I am pretty unobservant. I can talk to someone for an hour, and not notice what they are wearing. But I would immediately notice if they looked ill/depressed/under the weather. I think we are all observant of the things that really interest us, but then there are people who are just observant; full stop. The latter tend to be artistic, in my experience.ReplyDelete
That sounds logical, Frances: we are all observant of the things that really interest us.Delete
I love your new short hair-do, I think it really suits you!
I am afraid that I don't pay that much attention to clothes, since I could care less about them. I might notice if you wore something new, but only because you have an "air" of expectancy about you, if you understand what I mean.
I never forget a person's face, just as I can never remember the name that goes with the face!
I feel that I have a laser beam intensity when it comes to beauty, if there is chaos or disorder, I try to tune it out.
Thank you, dear Kay :-)Delete
Interesting how you never forget a face but can't remember the name that goes with it. I have a very good memory for names but not a good one for numbers. It took me YEARS to memorize my own phone numbers, and while I recognize RJ's numbers (mobile and landline) when I see them on the display of my phone, I don't know them by heart.
I love your new hairdo, I noticed!
They always say that eye-witnesses are the worst, they get everything wrong.
Thanks for stopping by my blog and the spools are for a swap, we have to decorate the spool for Easter and swap it with an assigned partner!
Have a great weekend,
Thank you, Dorothy - both for your comment and your explanation about the spools. I still don't "get" them, I must admit :-)Delete
This is one of the most fascinating posts I have read which, given how fascinating many posts are, is saying something. Most police officers will tell you (off the record) that eye-witnesses are very unreliable. I would make a terrible witness unless I had witnessed something and converted it to words immediately. Words are my medium. I cannot recall images. This has very profound implications in so many areas. Oddly, Like Kay, whilst I could not usually nor easily describe a person I had seen I would rarely forget a face if I saw it again although the name (even, on one occasion, of my wife) might escape me. We are very complicated mechanisms.ReplyDelete
I agree with Frances that artistic people are more likely to notice detail. I don't but, again like Frances, I can usually tell you every detail about how I think a person felt emotionally.
One thing I do notice (and I don't think I should say this but I will 'cos I'm in that sort of mood) is what legs are like and what shoes are on the feet attached to those legs.
I forgot to say that, with regard to hairdos, I have a strict rule. I never comment on a lady's hairdo until at least the day after I've first seen it. I learned early on in my adult life that that is a safer course of action. A knee-jerk reaction to a new hairdo can give far too much away and if one does not like it then, I am told on good authority, it shows in my face and I do not like lying about such things.ReplyDelete
A very wise course of action indeed, Graham. Same goes for a new outfit, I suppose.Delete
Isn't it interesting how many of us assume that artistic people notice more detail, and then Silke, who is one of the most artistic people I know, comes along and says that she hardly notices detail but her emotions and feelings respond strongly to people and scenery!
Let's hope that none of us will ever be needed as an eye-witness in a police investigation :-)