How can we recognize them from us?

We have met the enemy and it is us.- Pogo

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What do you see in this picture? Are the blue stripes in the foreground, or in the background? Is the yellow in the foreground, or in the background?

Perception is the process of gathering sensory input information, whether through the eyes, ears, nose, skin, or mouth , interpreting what it means to us, and then responding accordingly.

 Perception  is  a self-fulfilling prophecy , i.e., in the beginning a false definition of a situation occurs which evokes a conclusion that makes the originally false definition to appear true.[1]

Simply put, our interpretations are affected by our experience and our genetics. Our interpretations are subjective and are often distorted to fit our belief systems.

Two types of interpersonal projections are common: 1.dispositional attribution, and 2. situational disposition.   The former refers to a situation whereby we attribute motives due to circumstances, whereas the latter refers to motives we attribute to a person's character or disposition.[2] Let us look at the following example.

You agree to meet a person at a scheduled time and  date. You miss the meeting  and then state that it was due to circumstances beyond your control.  You agree to meet at another time and date. This time you show up but the other person does not. How would you explain their missing the meeting.

Can you tell the difference between the type of projection? The first case is one of situational attribution as you attribute your absence due to circumstances beyond your control. The second case is one of dispositional attribution as you attribute the absence due to the character, or disposition, of the person   ,i.e., he/she was lazy, didn't care about the meeting, was or was getting even with you, etc.

Sizing up others can, indeed, be a sizable task. Not only can our impressions of others be a projection of ourselves, but also what we see in others, and what they see in us, can significantly influence these impressions.


 In short: A projection, or problems of attribution, whether situational, or dispositional,  is anytime a person reads something  into another person or situation,  and sees it as if it were true, when it is not. [3]

 Gay and Kathleen Hendricks have stated it so succinctly when they wrote that "Projection begins the moment we forget we are in charge of creating the experience we are having."   [4]

Your 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire, Factor L, indicated what your percentile of projection is, as compared to the general population. The empty chair technique is a projection technique, i.e., is a technique that is designed to assist us in experiencing how we attribute our own characteristics to another person or object.[5]

Visualize the empty chair for a moment. Now in your imagination place a person upon that chair. Notice the color, the details, the hair, eyes, and the clothes. Pay attention to any feelings you are having. Go ahead and say something out loud to your projected image sitting upon the chair. Perhaps, you have feelings that you have not expressed. After you have finished, now sit on the chair and answer yourself by talking back to yourself sitting in another chair or place.  Try this for several minutes. What did you experience? What did you learn about your projections? Be sure and include the details of your situation. State whom you placed on the empty chair, what you said, and what you said when you did the role reversal. 


Extra Credit 

Explain how this card trick works. Be sure and explain the self-fulfilling prophecy and how it affects our interpretation of our perception. Le Woogie!


 1. David W. Johnson,  Reaching Out: Interpersonal Effectiveness and Self Actualization, Boston,: Allyn and Bacon, 2003 p.102 . 
 2.  Don Hamachek, Don, Encounters with Others,  New York: Holt, Reinhart & Winston, 1982 , p.26
 3. George Weinberg, Diane  Rowe,
The Projection Principle, New York: St. Martin Press,1988, p.2
 4. Gay Hendricks, Kathlyn Hendricks, Centering the Art of  Intimacy, Englewood Cliffs New Jersey:1985, p.61 
 5. H. Adam Blatner, 
Acting-In Practical Applications of  Psychodramatic Methods, New York, N.Y.: Springer Publishing Company, Inc.,1973, p.45

Copyright 1998  [Robert Brehm]. All rights reserved.