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Monday, June 6, 2011

Opening Perceptions of Others

I hope God grants me the special ability to live the rest of my life without tunnel vision. Thinking within a familiar framework may be quite comfortable and allow people who do so to live with less opposition; however, a narrow mind can restrict opportunities to learn new, important viewpoints. Many have different opinions about should be recognized and analyzed. We must learn to tip our hats and to open our minds to valid converse thinking.

We have beliefs that are influenced by factors such as gender, race, and ethnicity, and certainly these elements affect our thinking and, eventually, our behavior. Thinking "outside the box" requires us to reconsider views that collide with our well-groomed perceptions. As we examine these views, we may expand our knowledge of a subject. This allows us to reconsider old lines of reasoning that may need adjusted or even changed.

We know that people take in the world through their different senses – seeing, hearing, or feeling. People different from ourselves may lead their decision-making processes with something other than the prime method we use ourselves. Four widely known processes are intuition, thinking, feeling, and sensing.

Different people pay attention to different things and apply different criteria for making decisions. When people solve problems, the four functions - feeling, sensing, thinking, and intuition - come into play in different combinations.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a widely used approach for understanding and characterizing the styles of interaction different people prefer to employ. (CPP, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,, 2009)

The MBTI may be used to help teens and young adults better understand their learning, communication, and social interaction styles. Guidance counselors also might use the test to help teens determine which occupational field or college major they might be best suited for. Understanding the test just may open our minds to the different styles of perception and to the different ways people form judgments.

The MBTI is based, in particular, on the following dimensions of a person's preferred approach to life.

How a person may pay perceive or take in information (Sensing vs. Intuition)

1. A Senser focuses on facts and the five senses

Those who prefer Sensing perception favor clear, tangible data and information that fits in well with their direct here-and-now experience

2. An Intuiter focuses on what might be and the sixth sense.

Those who prefer intuition perception are drawn to information that is more abstract, conceptual, big-picture, and represents imaginative possibilities for the future.

How a person forms judgments (Thinking vs. Feeling)

1. A Thinker tends to use reason and logic.

A Thinker uses a primarily detached standpoint, measuring the decision by what seems reasonable, logical, causal, consistent and matching a given set of rules. The emphasis is on tasks and results to be accomplished.

2. A Feeler tends to use values and subjective judgment.

A Feeler uses a standpoint developed by associating or empathizing with the situation, looking at it from "the inside" and weighing the situation to achieve, on balance, the greatest harmony, consensus and fit, considering the needs of the people involved. The emphasis is on the global, visceral, harmony and value-oriented way.

What is Better?

People who prefer thinking do not necessarily, in the everyday sense, "think better" than their feeling counterparts; the opposite preference is considered an equally rational way of coming to decisions (and, in any case, the MBTI assessment is a measure of preference, not ability). Similarly, those who prefer feeling do not necessarily have "better" emotional reactions than their thinking counterparts.

In reality, people often are a mixture of these functions. Intuiters and Feelers both tend to dislike too much detail. Thinkers and Sensors work with more information. A mixed bag of people, a variety of types, usually work within the same work group. While this diversity can be a useful strength, contributing to greater depth and breadth of team competence, there will be natural communication barriers within the team due to their natural mental language differences.


Each one of us has his or her own preferences, likes and dislikes. Likewise, each of us has our own limits of sensitivity to things that surround us. And, Lord knows, each of us has unique gifts and abilities. For example, some people have perfect pitch; some people can comprehend in great depth; some people are very introspective. It stands to reason, each of us possesses a unique knowledge.

In fact, our own individual brains actually shape our understandings. Geraint Rees, a professor at the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging (the world's leading fMRI center) at University College London, published a trio of studies that relates differences in the way people experience things with differences in gross aspects of their cerebral neocortex, the highly convoluted part of the forebrain that crowns the brains of all mammals. Rees’s studies establish that differences in the morphology, or shape, of our brains are mirrored in differences in the way we consciously experience and apprehend the world, including our own brains and bodies. (Kristof Koch, "Think Different: How Perception Reveals Brain Differences," Scientific American, January 24 2011) 

So what does this research by a cognitive neuroscientist say? It is obvious that if the apparatus that senses the world differs between two individuals, then the conscious experience of the brains wired to these sensors cannot be the same either.

I do not intend to remain rigid in my beliefs when I find reasons to change my mind. Granted, certain limits exist that restrict my mindful exposure to what is at hand, relevant, and within my budget. Still, I hope, especially in my old age, that I am able to escape the inflexibility that lends to stale, unproductive thinking and stagnant living. In the future, I hope to do a better job of learning how people think. Forming some new ideas may be the difference to living a more productive life.

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