Perceptual psychologists work in an area of cognitive psychology that focuses on the study of human perception. Many complex processes interact as humans perceive their surrounding environment. An understanding of these processes can help researchers understand a variety of things, such as the best background color for advertisements or the way in which perceptual biases can influence hiring decisions. Researchers in this field work for educational institutions as well as private companies that have an interest in cognitive psychology.
Cognitive psychology in general looks at the processes in the brain that underlie human phenomena such as perception. Perceptual psychologists examine pathways in the brain that contribute to hearing, touch, smell, sight and taste. They also develop theories to explain some perceptual phenomena that cannot be wholly understood, even with the assistance of brain imaging and other tools. These theories can be tested in experimental environments.
One important area within perceptual psychology is the study of vision. The biological processes behind vision are complicated and a number of mistakes can happen along the way. There also are important cognitive processes that determine how human beings process visual information. An awareness of how humans perceive visual information can also be exploited; at the movies, for instance, it is an error of perception that causes viewers to perceive a series of rapidly presented images as a single moving picture.
Researchers who have an interest in perceptual psychology can use a variety of means to measure perceptual abilities and systems, which is useful for creating a baseline of information. This can help perceptual psychologists learn more about the processes behind the perception and interpretation of sensory information. Perception biases that influence the way people perceive and present information are also a topic of study. Understanding these biases can provide important information about how they interact with real-world experiences. Experiments can involve fieldwork as well as studies in a controlled environment to test hypotheses and provide more information about human perception and the development of perception in young children and teens.
Many colleges and universities offer training in cognitive psychology and can support students who want to focus on perceptual psychology. Perceptual psychologists might choose to continue working in academia as educators and researchers. They also can work for private organizations and government agencies, and they might consult in the medical field, where errors in perception can provide clues to problems with the brain. Perceptual psychologists might also study topics such as advertising, sociology and related issues to understand how perceptual biases influence society.