Book Definition: People's tendency to perceive things a certain way because their previous experiences or expectations influence them is a perceptual set.

Quite Simply...


  • A mental predisposition to perceive one thing and not another.
  • Using past experiences to judge how to handle a situation.
  • People's expectations for something; this can be good or bad.
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Examples of Perceptual Set...


  • FOX; OWL; SNAKE; TURKEY; SWAN; B_RD - A person would expect that the letter that goes in the space is "i" to make the word bird, since the past examples were all animals.
  • You tell your friend to spell the word fork, and say it 5 times. Then you ask them the question "what do you eat soup with?" and they answer "fork" instead of spoon. They answer incorrectly because you have just put the idea of a fork in their mind and they expect the next word they say to be fork.
  • Say the words silk dilk rilk tilk and then ask a friend what cows drink. Their perceptual set will cause them to say "milk", even though cows really drink water.
  • When you're driving on the highway, you don't expect a bicyclist or a motorcyclist to cut you off because you are instead being cautious of a car cutting you off.
  • You see your friend in the hall who is expecting you to say "How's it going?", but instead you say "Whats up?" and your friend says "Good".

See Also...


  • When someone is able to recognize an object or figure under different conditions (such as darkness, illumination, distance) it is because of Perceptual Constancy.
  • When you use small ideas and fragments in order to create a "big picture", you are using Bottom-Up Processing.
  • When you start with a "big picture" idea, or concept, and use past experiences to put meaning behind it, you are using Top-Down Processing.

Crash Course on Perception: