We See Differently

Scott McCloud author of The Vocabulary of Comics graciously points out that there IS a difference between what we see and how we perceive it, versus what our neighbor might see and interpret.

Here’s an example: 


What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see these images? Is it the difference in the tilt? Most likely that is not what you’re focused on. While a good majority of people would see either of these images and automatically regard it as the controversial symbol for the Nazis, some will know that one of these images (the one on the bottom) has an ancient history and has been associated with many Indian cultures such as Buddhism and Jainism – a complete 180 of an idea and symbol in comparison to the Nazis idea of the symbol on the top.


Or what about this image? Depending on whom you ask it can be a sun, a hoop, a ring, or just a circle. A lot of the determining factors would be the culture we live in and how our needs differ. The point being, different cultures give different meanings to things, and just like McCloud says “words are abstract,” and symbols can be as well until a person decides to give meaning to it.

The American Psychological Association did a study on our brains and culture, and came to the conclusion that we see what we need to see, and when our brains correlate an image with notions that our positive to us we receive a strong reward circuitry in our brains. What rewarded our brains differed for each culture, this study did a comparison of the Chinese and Americans.

“We see that what the brain finds rewarding reflects the values of the dominant culture,” says Ambady. “People can see the same stimulus but have completely different neural responses.”

Here’s an interesting take on how we view ourselves in a mirror versus how others might see us.

It would seem that many people view themselves in a negative light despite what others might think and express to them, or even if it is not negative, they just do not view themselves as the world does. McCloud coins this as “non-visual self-awareness” (37). He believes that while we know what our bodies are actually doing, we cannot picture it. Our own image of ourselves is just a sort of sketchy display of what we think we look like.

While a previous blog post “Is that Jesus in my soup/toast/street sign/tree?” pointed out being able to initially perceive something was originally a way to help determine the threat level of whatever passed us by and to protect ourselves. Now that every passerby is not particularly a threat to us I believe that we judge ourselves a certain way in order to once again keep us from harm. But the harm we are trying to save ourselves from is a distorted view of how others will judge us. So basically, rather than allowing someone else to look at you and perceive you as ugly, you instead do it for them, preparing and protecting yourself from what could POSSIBLY happen. This is truly a “distortion of reality” says Emily Sohn author of “Why We Don’t See Ourselves as Others Do.”


Bringing this back full-circle with McClouds theories, just like we root for the underdog because we see ourselves, we appreciate cartoons, because we can fill in the gaps with the details of ourselves. I agree when McCloud states that “universiality of cartoon imagery” is a huge reason why we all adore it at some point in our lives. A lot of people can identify with a character that lacks every wrinkle, freckle, and gray hair that we all might have in real life. In a simplistic cartoon you can fill in the blank space with details of yourself, in comparison to a well shaded, more realistic cartoon that clearly portrays a certain “look.”

What cartoon characters did you imagine yourself to be?

Here’s a quiz if you need help!

Overall, perception of symbols, icons, and pictures can all vary depending on the person for multiple reasons but one huge one being culture. It can be considered a sign of what we as a culture consider important, your own personal experiences, and/ or what we need to survive or to reward ourselves. Keep that in mind next time you are deciphering a symbol. Ask yourself, what else can this be a concept of?

Susie Carmichael, The Rugrats

-Brittany Smith



17 thoughts on “We See Differently

  1. I love your blog post ‘We See Differently’, Brittany! Your YouTube post of Duncan Davidson was very interesting and relatable for me. Just last week a friend of mine needed to take a photo of me for his photography class. I absolutely hated the photo and he loved it and thought it was perfect for his assignment. This goes to show that people really do see themselves differently than others. This subject ties in wonderfully with Scott McCloud’s ‘The Vocabulary of Comics’. It is true when McCloud says that there is a significant difference between what we see and how we interpret it.


  2. This was a great post, it is completely relatable to everyone. The symbols really caught my attention and I was intrigued. Every sees something differently depending on how they were raised/taught. Like the Nazi symbol, not everyone knows about the Indian association with that symbol only from what we are taught in schools. The video from Duncan Davidson was also a really strong point for your article. He helped make your point more “solid”. Interpretation is everything in this world, whether we like it or not.


  3. I truly enjoyed your blog post “We See Differently”. You brought McCloud’s words to life and related them to things we see and deal with every day. I know personally when I looked at the third image I saw a circle, but when I asked my little cousin she said “ball”. Granted she is only three, but it just goes to show we all have different views on a one topic/object.
    My favorite part in your blog is by far the incorporation of the video by Duncan Davidson. It gave your post great insight on exactly what the difference is between what we see and what others see in ourselves.


  4. I thought your post titled “We See Differently” was very well written and very interesting. The video really contributed to my understanding of how people see things differently. Your section about the Nazi symbol verses the Indian association symbol was interesting to read about, and makes me wonder why our brains interpret these things differently. Can it be based on our personal experiences? Or perhaps our personalities.


  5. “We See Differently” was a very interesting read. It really allows one to take note of how different things can be from the perception we have. For example, the Nazi symbol and the Indian Symbol. Some people only see the Nazi while another person may see it as something completely different. This post takes hold of a concept that is true for everyone. That the world only takes the shape that we give it ourselves. However, despite that there is more to the world then what we care to see sometimes. I really enjoyed reading this post.


  6. I thought this was an interesting and inspiring read. I love how relatable you made this article for everyone and still managed to cover so much. Everybody sees everything differently, it depends on your culture, your background, and every experience. If you grew up hearing someone make fun of you, or complimenting you then it is ingrained in your head to start believing whatever someone says. Everybody has different experiences in life, and no two people are remotely the same so no two people will EVER see everything exactly the same. I thought the Youtube video you included was a perfect way to make us relate, nobody likes what they see in the mirror ALL the time, and thats because we are our hardest judge, We may hate things about us that others simply love and thats just how it is.


  7. This blog post was interesting to read and very informing. My first instinct, like a majority of people, classified the first picture as a Nazi symbol. To my surprise, I had no idea it was associated with the Indian culture It is 100% true that our perception of certain objects are so influenced by our surroundings and experiences. My perception of something can differ from someone else’s. Most of the time, we take a symbol or an object and make it into something completely different than the real meaning of it. This could be a flaw in the human mind, but it’s completely unintentional.


  8. I really loved this article! I could totally relate to it because whenever someone says that a picture of me is good I disagree with them. This article points out some of the reasons as to why, because we as humans tend to see ourselves different from the world. I liked how you opened up your blog with the two symbols. For me, the video spoke to me and really added credibility to what you were saying because it was a blog post. It was very well organized and the topic was very relatable. I think that everyone can look something from this and it could be a good way to promote self-image. I also love how you attached that quiz! I got Carl from Jimmy Neutron !


  9. This is a really interesting post. I think you did a good job at describing the truth behind all people seeing things differently. I noticed this in my everyday life also. It is unquestionable that our culture, up bringing and just everyday experiences in general can influence people’s views on a lot of different things. It is strange to think that one thing you may see in a photo could be looked at completely different through another persons eyes.


  10. I really enjoyed the video in this post. I think a lot of us hate the way we look in pictures and this kind of brings an understanding as to why. We only have one view of ourselves and that is in the mirror. The camera is different. A camera captures what is actually there, and that is not necessarily what we see each day in ourselves.

    I also thought the comparison of Woody and the character in Polar Express was interesting. Both characters shared Tom Hanks voice, yet we have a better connection to Woody than we do to the boy. Without all of the details we can use our imagination and previous understandings to come up with our own conclusions about a character or object.


  11. I really liked your post “We See Differently”! it was really relatable to all readers because depending on our different upbringings we may all interpret the symbols differently. Like when Prof. Wolf drew “+” on the board and asked us what it was. Some said the letter t, some said it was a cross.


  12. icons and symbols are interesting because people can transcend into those same categories. What is prince now except for that squiggly line design he created. Abraham Lincoln is a symbol for freedom and Hitler is a symbol for hatred. It enters the realm of legacy and thats interesting to find out how the generations will view their current culture stars.


  13. I really enjoyed reading this post! It is a post that many of us can relate. Icons, images, symbols, and even messages are all interpreted differently depending on the viewer or the audience. I thought the circle one was very interesting (see I saw it as a circle). Something many children learn in their early years, a shape, a circle. But you stated it could be a hoop or a sun, or even the letter O. It is amazing that something so small can carry so much meaning. The symbol for freedom and the Nazi symbol are a great example – not many would distinguish the difference from the tilt if they did not know the back story of what either of them meant. Overall, I think it is amazing how our world interprets such things as a circle to mean so much more. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I am not really sure because sometimes things become misinterpreted.


  14. I really liked your blog post! I have to agree that there is a difference between what we see and how we perceive it versus how our neighbor might see and interpret it. I also liked the video that you included about the mirror because some people think that they look in it and look good, whereas some others look in it and think that they look bad. I think how we perceive things are what makes us different than the next person, which is a good thing. If we all saw things exactly the same, what a boring world we would live in.


  15. I could definitely relate to your blog post about how we perceive things, especially how we perceive them differently from others. I think a good example of this would be through text messages and emojis. We may perceive a certain smiley face differently than someone else. I know a couple of my friends have different meanings for the same emoji. I also like how you included images from the textbook. I know I had no clue that there was a difference in meaning between the two figures you showed first. I find it very interesting that we as humans can develop several different meanings for the same thing.


  16. I found this post very interesting because of the discussion of perception with symbols. It all circles back to McCloud’s idea of symbols and words being abstract. Why are these symbols so abstract? Because we each have our own level of perception; we all have our own opinion, and I think that’s extremely important to take note of with the example you used at the top of your blog. Like Katie mentioned above, it is pretty incredible how we all have our different interpretations. The Nazi symbol is definitely a great example to use. Does rotating it completely change how people view it? I guess it depends on your individual perception.


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