Perception and Perspective

I’m so sorry this is late. I was traveling and had no internet access.

Anyways, I chose to talk about perception in regards to internal and external factors and use three different examples to demonstrate that. I wanted to show how these factors impact our though process in such a significant manner. I had a great time in this course with everyone. Wish you all good luck and hope you enjoy my blogpost!

We go around everyday, to work, to school, to the supermarket. We feel grief, pain, and happiness. Our brain has the ability to perceive things, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. Sometimes we think something without knowing that we had the ability to think at that level or to that extent. The memories that are stored in our brains are what distinguish us from others; the experience we have set us apart and help us look at things differently than others we know. How much of a part does this play in perception? I am going to be looking at three different examples, and describe what causes us to perceive these experiences in the way that we do.

When someone goes through a traumatic experience, and that person is in denial of the situation, we always hear phrases such as, “That’s a good sign; it’s the first step towards recovery.” Have you ever wondered what that meant, or where that came from? Is it really true that there are steps to check off a list to get through grief?

The 5 stages of grief was a concept originally mentioned by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, “On Death and Dying”. She had come to a conclusion that people experienced the 5 steps of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance through careful observation of people diagnosed with terminal diseases. Since then, this concept has been used in a widespread and straightforward manner, being taught in classes and spoken about otherwise.

However, Kubler-Ross eventually stated that, “she regretted writing the stages the way that she did, that people mistook them as being both linear and universal. Based on what she observed while working with patients given terminal diagnoses, Ms. Ross identified five common experiences, not five required experiences.”

One thing that people misinterpreted was that the 5 stages of grief were supposed to be experienced step-by-step by someone who is grieving. They found clarity in the chaos, finding it comforting that there were clear, logical directions they needed to get through this tough time. They perceived this as the solution, thus making it seem as though they had passed the ultimate grief test when they finally reached the final goal of acceptance.

Now let’s look at another example. When someone experiences a major accident or illness, there are instances where the best chance for survival is amputation. This brings forth the concept of phantom limb pain. The most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that the pain is mentally localized in the limb that no longer exists on the body. Is there a way that you can reverse the effects of the pain by visualizing a lack of it?

Let’s start off with the exact meaning of the term, phantom limb pain. Phantom limb pain is associated with sensations of pain referred to an absent limb. There have been many tries at therapies for this pain, and a specific example is the study conducted called “The effect of opioids on phantom limb pain and cortical reorganization.” This study tested the effectiveness between oral retarded morphine sulphate (MST) against placebo in a double-blind crossover design in 12 patients who were experiencing phantom limb pain after unilateral leg or arm amputation. The results showed that pain was significantly lowered through the use of MST; placebo was not so effective. Pain thresholds were not significantly altered, but attention to the pain was lowered under MST. This showed that the perception of the placebo effect was not particularly useful in this instance, as the medicine that reduced the pain sensation was what ended up being the most effective.

However, an experiment developed by the neuroscientist Vilyanur S Ramachandran used mirrors to help lessen the phantom pain sensation. The experiment worked in a simple way: a mirror is placed in a strategic manner so that the healthy limb is reflected to resemble the absent limb. There is sensory conflict within the brain, as the brain sees movement, but it knows that there is no limb present in that area. The visual perception overpowers the conflict, and relief is felt in the absent limb.

The idea of mirror neurons was brought up by the Italian scientist Giacomo Rizzolatti, who observed mirror neurons in monkeys’ brains fire not only when their arm reached out, but also when another monkey’s arm reached out. The same was found in humans, which was why the mirror experiment was so effective.

Let’s look one last example. Racism and gender bias has been a very important issue in the past, and is still a major issue now. Even though people claim to be evolved and modernized in their thinking, they are unable to see that their subconscious mind is not that easily altered. Does this make you a fundamentally bad person? Are there any ways to change this mindset?

There is a part of your brain, the amygdalae, that activates in the presence of fear, threat, anxiety, and distrust. A test called the Race Implicit Association Test, or the Race IAT, was conducted on a selected group of Caucasian contestants where they were able to come to the conclusion that 70-87% of the Caucasians in the US displayed bias against African Americans in the test. This was concluded because these participants had a higher activation of their amygdalae to African American male faces than when they were shown Caucasian faces.

This is a small example of how even though the conscious mind might not have been actively biased against African Americans, there was still a part of the brain that responded to the stimulus the way it did due to predispositions they knew growing up. Although it was easy for them to control their conscious bias, the tests showed that there was still something in the “back of their minds”, as they say.

Through these examples, you might get a sense of what affects our daily perceptions. In the case of the phantom limb pain, it was internal perceptions regarding your body system, the visual, as well as the sensory system. On the other hand, the perceptions of grief and bias were based on external experiences and stereotypes that we are exposed to as we grow up. These examples clearly show that the world we grow up in shapes our personalities and our perspectives. The information that we get from the outside world is always in our reach, and we are always exposed to it. The only way that we can shape our personalities and biases positively is by ensuring that the information available is not falsified, but rather based on facts while also being accessible for everybody.

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