Ecological Psychology

It is hard to find good introductory readings in ecological psychology, and an unfortunate amount of discussion within ecological circles can look like self-contained naval-gazing at times.  We shall try to get a sense for the radical shift in perspective that accompanies ecological thinking, without worrying too much about purity of doctrine.  Read the articles with the asterisk, and browse or skim a sampling of the remainder.

This first article is outside the ecological canon, but the relatively simple point it raises is a great starting point for adopting an ecological form of questioning about the nature of perception and the embedding of an organism in its environment:

* Runeson, Sverker (1977) On the possibility of “smart” perceptual mechanisms. Scand J. Psychol. 1977;18(3):172-9.

Harry Heft has done an admirable job of demystifying Gibsonian approaches.

* Heft, Harry (1989), Affordances and the body: An intentional analysis of Gibson’s ecological approach to visual perception, J. Theor. Soc. Behavior, 19(1), 1-30

Louise Barrett’s chapter on The Ecology of Psychology is a painless way to approach some central concepts.

I also want you to read this article, but not necessarily in depth.  It the reconsideration of what vision is about, and how it is to be understood that is crucial.  If you normally think of “images” when you think of vision, then you need to read this a bit more carefully.

Lee, David (1980), The Optic Flow Field: The Foundation of Vision, Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, vol. 290, no. 1038, pp. 169-179, July 1980.

While far more work has been done in visual perception than any other modality, the fundamental principles of ecological psychology are modality independent.  Here are some papers in ecological audition:

For those wanting to go further, a more complete account of (one view of) perception as understood within the Ecological tradition is available in this book: Michaels, C.F., & Carello, C. (1981). Direct perception. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

A recent book by Tony Chemero is “Radical Embodied Cognitive Science” (MIT Press, 2009). This takes Gibsonian accounts and places them centre stage along with dynamics as the heart of a post-cognitivist view.  Many themes of this module are strongly represented in this work.

If predictive models are your bag, then this contribution by Strepp and Turvey might be of interest: Stepp, N., & Turvey, M. T. (2010). On strong anticipation. Cognitive Systems Research11(2), 148-164.