Ambiguous Pictures and Different Perspectives of the World

Everyone experiences the world in their own individual way because there is no objective way to perceive the world.

Perception is the way we see, understand, and interpret stimuli from the external environment. We use our five senses - sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing - to create our picture of the world according to the sensory impressions that reach our brain. This process is called sensory gating. It refers to the neural processes that filter out redundant or irrelevant stimuli from all the possible environmental stimuli before they reach our brain. The "program" that determines which stimuli are relevant is conditioned by our personal experience and cultural background. Meaning is constructed on the basis of our prior knowledge.


For example, what do you see in the following pictures?



The first picture is not of a wedding, but of a quinceañera, the celebration of a girl's 15th birthday in Mexico and other Latin American countries. The second is not a Ku Klux Klan rally, but the celebration of Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Spain. The third picture shows allotment gardens in Germany. A Colombian recently arrived in Germany thought they were slums.


An ambiguous image is an image that can be interpreted in two ways. This is done by exploiting phenomena such as graphical similarities so that only part of the visual information is perceived. When looking at the picture, most people are only aware of one of the two figures depicted. They have to make a conscious effort to perceive the second image, and may even need clues and explanations to identify it. These images show how subjective our perception is: we only perceive the part of reality that passes through our cognitive filters, while the other facets of reality remain invisible or incomprehensible to us. Ambiguous images are therefore a powerful example of our selective perception.

The following video "10 Ambiguous Illusions To Test Your Brain" presents several ambiguous images.



The judgements we make about the stimuli we receive are called attitudes. They refer to the feelings or opinions we have about something, such as whether it is good or bad or right or wrong. And the moral principles we have about what is right or wrong are called values.

The ability to change one's perspective to see the world from another person's point of view can help to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. Especially in an intercultural context, it is important to be able to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" in order to understand the motivations, attitudes and actions of others and the values that underlie them.

The first step is to be aware of our own culture and how it influences the way we act and communicate. A good example is our attitude to time and how we manage it. 


 Questionnaire - How do you manage your time?

  • Is it important for you to plan things well in advance, e.g. organising a meeting, preparing       for a presentation or exam, planning holidays and travel?
  • How far in advance do you plan these things?
  • Do you mind changing your plans?
  • Do you mind having to improvise?
  • Do you work well under time pressure?
  • Does it bother you if someone interrupts what you are doing?
  • Do you consider yourself a punctual person?

Are you a monochronic or polychromic person?


Anthropologist Edward Twitchell Hall distinguishes between monochronic cultures and polychronic cultures.  Monochronic cultures place a high value on schedules and punctuality. Time is quantifiable like money. Dates and appointments are planned and organized well in advance and it is considered important to keep them.

Polychronic people focus more on what they are doing than on a predetermined schedule. They perceive the passage of time more fluidly and prefer to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. For example, they interrupt meetings to take phone calls, sign documents, etc. To exaggerate a bit, meeting deadlines and sticking to plans is a priority for monochronic people, while polychronic people value personal relationships more than plans, which can be easily changed or abandoned.

Both types of time management have advantages and disadvantages and can be viewed from different perspectives:


Monochronic time management



Is more efficient and predictable

if everything goes according to plan



Is not flexible

What impression can a polychronic person get of monochronic people?

They are inflexible and narrow-minded.




Polychronic time management



Be flexible and able to react on the spot, to adapt to new situations and to deal with the unexpected.



Tends to be less efficient

What impression can a monochronic person get of polychronic people?

They are disorganized and inefficient.




 The following video outlines some features of monochronic and polychronic culture:

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