The top-down processing occurs when one’s general knowledge guides their specific perceptions. Their ability to comprehend information is influenced
by the context in which it appears when one uses top-down processing. Top-down processing refers to perceptions based on prior knowledge.
There is a hierarchy of cognitive systems within humans — At the bottom is the most basic perception, and at the top is the more complex perception derived from prior knowledge.
Here are some examples of top-down processing that would help understand it better.
Understanding what our senses perceive in our daily lives can be facilitated through top-down processing. One such example is reading identifications. Try reading this.
“Hlleo! Aer yuo abel to raed htis? Cuontineu erading ot ese if ouy cna. Reda htis senetanc
nwo. heT Univerysit of Oxdfor si oen of teh ledaing unsiversitie in teh wdorl.”
You were able to read it, right?
Upon reading the above words, you could smoothly perceive the above-written words and perceive the gibberish as words, sentences, and even a paragraph.
Did it make sense? Yes!
Why? This is because your brain did not read every letter separately, but rather read the word as a whole.
The Stroop Effect
Known as the Stroop effect, top-down processing is best demonstrated by this phenomenon. In the experiment, participants are shown with a page full of words or a list of words printed in different colors. Next, they are asked to name the color of the ink rather than the word itself.
Ink colors and meanings of words don’t always match, which slows people down and leads to more errors. People find it harder to understand when, for example, the word “purple” is printed in brown ink rather than purple ink.
The top-down processing is responsible for this error. The person reading it automatically recognizes the word (purple) before he/she thinks about the color (brown) it’s written in. As a result, it is easier to read the word rather than saying its color.
Do you remember times when you typed a message, proofread it, and sent it to someone, only to realize you made tons of errors that you couldn’t recognize during proofreading?
Have you experienced it?
You’re not alone.
The majority of people have trouble catching their typos.
Reason — Your brain tricks you into reading what you think you should see. Without your conscious awareness, your brain fills in missing details and corrects the (typos) mistakes.
The Necker Cube is another example.
The wireframe design allows the cube to maintain perceptual ambiguity. There are two squares in front of the viewer, allowing them to interpret it differently — an upper right square or a lower-left square.
Because the brain has created two separate hypotheses, both of them equally likely to be true, viewers can easily switch between the two orientations. Since both hypotheses are equally plausible, the brain cannot
decide which one is true, allowing it to continuously switch its visual orientation.
Since the viewer first saw the cube, the sensory input of information has not changed. The difference is their perception of the cube, concluding that perception of information is flowing from top to bottom instead of bottom to top.
An auditory illusion known as phonemic restoration takes place when someone hears parts of words that are not there.
Consider an exercise in which you are asked to listen to a sentence, then write down what you heard. However, during speaking out the sentence, the speaker sneezes at the beginning of one of the words, which eliminates some phonemes.
It is claimed that the listener would be able to write down the missing phonemes regardless of the speaker’s sneeze.
To test it, an experiment was conducted. The experiment revealed that the speaker spoke out the sentence, “It was found that the wheel was on the axle.”, and replaced the phonemes wh- with a cough. Although the wh- phonemes in the word wheel were missing, all participants wrote it down.
Participants identified the word using prior knowledge, experiences, and expectations despite the missing phonemes, is an example of top-down processing.
As a result of top-down processing, humans use what they already know before they are presented with a stimulus. Hence, people perceive things differently depending on how they interpret it. The key to understanding top-down processing is prior knowledge and experience.
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