Our brains are hardwired to look for things we want, need or like. A widely used example to prove this fact is that of a colour. In this case I will be referring to a car. Your favourite car is white and you always compare it to other white cars. One evening a television ad introduced a new model of the car brand you like. The problem is that this model only comes in the colour red. The following day on your way to work you only notice red cars. You think to yourself that you have not realized that there are so many red cars around. The reason you never noticed that there are so many red cars is called selective perception.

Selective perception is the brain’s way of forming a shortcut to ensure that your chances are better of getting what you want. This process blocks out unrelated information and places focus on your needs. Selective perception is a very broad spectrum term covering all instances of information bias. In this article I address reading.

Reading can be done to relax, learn or follow instructions. Each form of reading places the brain in a different state. If you do not know how to cook then you follow a recipe. If you need enlightenment, you read scripture. To relax, you unwind with a hot cup of coffee and your favorite magazine, website or novel. With every written piece purposely made to convey an idea, belief or method. Unfortunately many times our selective perception stops us from reading all the content. I can give plenty of examples of something we have all done before.

  1. Over eager to start an exam because you are overflowing with the information you studied. Full of confidence you ignore the examiners instruction to read all the questions first. We all know how that played out.
  2. You first attempt at baking a cake. Easy, just read the instructions. Cake in the oven baking at full steam. Only to realize that you did not butter your cake pan before pouring in the cake batter.
  3. Working on a mechanical piece. The instructions’ first warning was to number every part, including the nuts and bolts. Only to be left with a mysterious handful of nuts and bolts after you finished your project.

Either way selective perception was the cause of crucial information being neglected as less important. Even though your immediate need might have been met, you sometimes become blinded by it. Think of it as judging a written sentence by only one word in it. You will lose the meaning of the sentence in turn losing the paragraph and then the entire written piece.

The problem with selective perception in reading is that we tend to only look for the words in a written piece that has meaning to our immediate need. This in turn defeats the purpose of reading and accumulating new information. I have written many articles just to have someone read only the first paragraph and then comment based on 5% of the information. Not only defeating the purpose of the information supplied but also not gaining the additional knowledge.

The point of any written work is to start a thought process on a matter. The audience then builds and formulates new concepts and understanding based on their individual knowledge and experience. It is something that makes one think and grow. You can almost see a writer as a guide giving you the basic tools to start with. What you do with the information will determine your future understanding on similar subjects. Writers write from a place of passion. This means that most written work has been well researched and the methods tried and tested in real life situations.

Next time you read to gain understanding or follow a step by step guide remember that you might miss a small but crucial point due to selective perception.

Happy reading!

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