Exploring the Perceptual Control Systems Hierarchy

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Perceptual Control Theory (1) is a cybernetic theory that explains behaviour as control of perception: organisms strive to bring their current perception towards their reference perception through action or change within the system. This theory helps us to understand a large range of human experiences, such as imagination, consciousness, emotion and motivation. One important aspect of this theory is the hierarchical structure of perceptual control systems in our neural architecture.

Within this hierarchy, we could make sense of both psychedelic and normal experiences. Each level in the hierarchy can be considered a different way of perceiving a set of perceptions at the level below. For example, Level 8 perceptions take the form of sequences, ordered in time or space, while level 9 combines multiple sequences in programs, where choices can be made about which sequence to follow. Perceptual experiences such as loss of the ability to make decisions, disorientation, no longer knowing what things are or how they are related, can be understood as loss of control within these levels of perceptual control. Awareness and (self-)consciousness (2) can be understood as reorganisation and change in input and output functions within this hierarchy.

In this poster, I present an overview of the perceptual hierarchy within the Perceptual Control Theory in order to understand the structure of the hierarchy of perceptual control systems, make sense of experiences related to gain and loss of control at each level, and explore the role of awareness, attention and consciousness.

Powers, WT. Behavior: the control of perception. Benchmark Publications; 1973, 2005.
Carey TA. Consciousness as Control and Controlled Perception–A Perspective. Ann Behav Sci. 2018;4(2):3.


Dr. Eva de Hullu is an assistant professor in clinical psychology at the Open University, the Netherlands. She studies working mechanisms in psychotherapy using the Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) and Method of Levels (MOL) therapy.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2020
EventInterdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research 2020 - Online, Haarlem, Netherlands
Duration: 24 Sept 202027 Sept 2020


ConferenceInterdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research 2020
Abbreviated titleICPR2020
Internet address


  • perceptual control, hierarchy, perception, control


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