Archives For Perception


November 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

As a 6’1″ tall white guy, I stand out in Sri Lanka. My looks really influence people’s interactions with me here.

When speaking Sinhala I take people off guard, as they don’t expect a foreigner to know the language.

At the store today I thanked an attended in Sinhalese, ඉස්තුති (istuti), and in return I received a blank stare. Thinking I had fumbled my words, I repeated myself. When he still hadn’t registered the words I spoke, his coworker – speaking perfect English – said, “he’s thanking you in Sinhalese”.

The expectation in Sri Lanka is that foreigners don’t speak any Sinhalese. Many people aren’t mentally primed to hear Sinhalese come out of my mouth, so when I try to speak it takes them a moment to register the fact that the words I’m saying aren’t in English.

Expectations influence perception.

I just read a phenomenal blog post by Renee DiResta about an interesting (albeit qualitative) study powered by Google’s auto-complete feature. She went State by state and saw what the Google search results indicated people thought of a particular state. She then compiled the top terms into an interactive map and compared some results with hard data.

Renee’s post leads me to questions whether people’s expectations are fueling the reality we see. There has been extensive academic research into how beliefs shape a person’s view of reality; so I have to believe that Google suggesting results has an impact on people’s searches – thus influencing their beliefs.

Take a look at this search result

Search results on 8/20/2012

Say I was offered a job in New Jersey, and I lived out of state. The first thing I’d find out about the state is that it is very expensive, and this Google search is true according to the hard data. Before the internet I doubt many people would look at cost of living statistics when considering moving, but now with the internet we have access to nearly unlimited data.

Infographic via Renee DiResta 

The questions that remains to be seen is how this data is leveraged, and whether it will truly help people to get a better sense of their world.
I’ve written previously about the power of data behind search terms, and I keep finding great examples of how people are leveraging Google Search data to improve their view of the world. If you haven’t seen it yet, Google has set up a Flu Tracker, which this year predicted a flu outbreak earlier than the CDC (Source). Brilliant.