Selective Perception Theory

Definition: Selective perception describes how we categorize and interpret information in a way that favorites one category or interpretation over another. In other words selective perception is a form of bias because we interpret information in a way that is congruent with our existing values and beliefs. Psychologists believe this process occurs automatically. Apply: Community organizers should have open and unbiased opinions when working with people. Organizers will work with a wide array of people with different backgrounds and beliefs. Selective perception prevents people from seeing the truth about other people because of the labels we have already applied to them. We see only what we choose to, which can limit our ability to form complex and fulfilling friendships and relationships. In order to develop meaningful and professional relationships we must put our preconceived notions behind us in order to work together with people and citizens to improve the community. Adapt: One profession that deals with selective perception theory is the law field. Lawyers must deal with different clients and represent their clients to the best of their ability. In some cases they will have to represent clients that they may have biases toward or different beliefs. In order to represent these clients they must put their own thoughts and feelings behind them to represent the clients and present a bias free case. The more aware they become of this process and their own particular triggers, the better equipped they will be to handle situations differently.


  1. Apply: Not only must Social Workers be aware of their own selective perception, but they should be aware of how their clients or community members reflect their own biases. Community Organizers must realize that the citizens of the community may interpret things, initiatives, ideas and missions in a way that is based on their category of preference.

    Adapt: Not only would this model be useful by lawyers (as Jeremy suggests), but law enforcement can benefit from this as well. If police officers are aware of their selective perception, it will be easier for them to work against it. Police men and women start to become aware of their instinctive biases and begin to work in a way that is free of discrimination and judgment.

  2. Is there a proponent for this theory? Who pioneered this theory?