What is PCT?

A simple start…

PCT stands for Perceptual Control Theory. Big words, eh?

The ‘big idea’ behind PCT is simple but don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get your head around.

This is it….

‘Behaviour is the control of perception’

That’s it.

Or more simply, we do things to get what we want - now that sounds too simple!

Let’s take it a step at a time…

PCT is a theory about ‘control’ in living things, like people, cats and fish. It’s about the control of what they perceive – what they notice, look at, feel, hear, taste and smell.

The living thing is in the driver’s seat. PCT is a theory from the person’s own point of view - or the animal’s own point of view…


In the driving seat…

When things are working normally, the person gets to experience what they want to experience. It is ‘just right’ – like the perfect cup of coffee or tea…


But how do they know this is happening?

According to PCT, the person compares a ‘standard’ – what they want – with what they are experiencing right now – their perception.

The difference between the two – the discrepancy or error is being measured.

The bigger the error the more the effort the person makes to reduce it, until the error is zero – this means they get what they want.

Imagine you are driving your car.


You see your target on your left – your office block. But you want it straight on.

So, you put effort into turning the wheel until you are looking straight at the store. If a dip in the road knocks you off course – a disturbance - you correct yourself again. For now, you have got what you want. You might want to read about research on driving as a process of maintaining 'safety margins', consistent with PCT (Nilsson, 2001).

This is just an explanation of the main idea of PCT. It’s not the fully story.

We get to do very complicated things, like eat pizza and run for president through PCT too, but this is a bit clearer when we cover a bit more.