How ‘noise’ triggers perceptual distortion in the communication flow, by Abdullahi A. Maiwada
Let me start this piece by aligning with the content of the second diagram illustrating that “Just because you are right, does not mean I am wrong. You just haven’t seen life from my side”.
Shannon and Weaver produced a general model of communication, which is named after them, the Shannon-Weaver Model. It involved breaking down an information system into sub-systems to evaluate the efficiency of various communication channels and codes. They propose that all communication must include six elements:
This model is often called an “information model” of communication. A limitation is that the model looks at communication as a one-way process. The addition of a feedback element remedies that.
Perceptual distortions mean incorrect understanding or abnormal interpretation of occurrences. It occurs when a person’s responses to stimuli vary from how it is commonly perceived.
In trying to communicate effectively, the sender should send his message through the appropriate channel at the right time to enable the receiver to decode the message correctly. On the other hand, the receiver should be open-minded and objective by decoding the message in the right context using standard parameters.
Feedback channels are readily available for the receiver to effect a two-way communication by seeking clarification from the sender on grey areas. Also, feedback sometimes gives a communicator an idea about his heterogeneous audience. Basically, it defines their personality based on how they perceive their message and their frantic efforts to influence the perception of other persons.
According to perception theory based on the diagram below by B. Berelson and G. A. Steiner (1964), first, a person gets exposed to particular media content (selective exposure). In other words, some individuals are exposed to specific media effects/messages while some are not. This screening aspect depends on many factors such as media reach, accessibility, age, cultural acceptability, etc.
Secondly, selective perception is the tendency to interpret communication messages based on one’s attitudes. People of distinct psychological characters perceive the same media content in different ways. This depends on factors such as age, values, family, opinions etc.
Third is selective attention, which is the process of screening a vast amount of information in which one has no interest through mental filters. The last two are selective retention and action.
Finally, I cannot round up perception theory without acknowledging the new concept of ‘Selective Expectation’ captured in the diagram below. This is propounded by Kola Adesina (2017). One of my mentors and a lecturer at the Mass Communication Department CUAB.
In all communication, the meaning of a message is greatly dependent on the culture in which it is transmitted. The sender encodes a message, and the receiver decodes it. Between the sender, the message and the receiver, the noise gets in the way and complicates the process. Noiseless communication does not exist as there always is some noise entering the communication. Noise can be physical noise, for example, static or psychological. Misunderstanding of a particular message, i.e. distortion of meaning, is also a form of noise.
Thanks to digital media for enabling engagement using comment sections or messenger for those who choose to engage the sender privately. However, channelling the message to a third party by boycotting the sender will add more ‘noise’ to the communication. In such a scenario, the sender is right to perceive a receiver to be mischievous in a deliberate attempt to facilitate a distorted message. Eventually, this will lead to disinformation and a wrong narrative about the intended message.
Abdullahi A. Maiwada is a superintendent of Customs attached to the Public Relations Unit, Nigeria Customs Service Headquarters, Abuja.