Perceptual Defence

Q.1(d ). Explain and critically evaluate the phenomena of perceptual defence. 10 Marks.( CSE 2018 ).

Model answer outline: Perceptual defence refers to the phenomenon in which people take more time to recognize some culturally taboo words or show perceptual distortion( eg they make perceive sex as set).

Originally, McGinnies, had reported this finding out of his experimental research in which threshold of recognition for such words were higher.

Its explanation has been offered by different scholars including McGinnies. According to McGinnies, this is like a defence mechanism which operates at the subconscious level. Subjects don’t do it deliberately and are not aware of.

In a follow up research, subject’s emotional reactions were also measured along with recognition threshold with the help of polygraph measures. It has been found that subjects got emotionally aroused before recognizing the taboo words.

Different interpretations came of this findings. Some see this as the cause of block in the perception and thus confirming the hypothesis of perceptual defence.

The critics however interpret the result differently. They argue how one could get emotionally aroused without being aware of the meaning of the words. For them, this is actually the case of delay in reporting rather than defence in perceiving.

To check delay factors due to cultural norms, experimenters asked subjects in the follow up experiments to just press a button immediately after perceiving the words. This time, threshold of recognition was relatively lower. So were the results, when subjects and experimenters were of same sex.These variations in the threshold, logically support the position of the critics.

Postman and Dickson research on the same, however, don’t show such results. They found that subjects were really not aware of meaning of the words but they got emotionally aroused. Maybe it is just unlike subliminal perception where we perceive things without being aware. Here, cultural conditioning of the perceptual system may bock perceptual processes without subject’s awareness.

Currently, like subliminal perception, we do think of perceptual defence as ” is this a myth or reality”.