Current State of Gibsonian Theory

Aside from her own writings, Gibson's work is rarely described as a theory of development. Indeed, even when Gibson's primary area of research, affordances, is referenced, the citations typically refer only to James Gibson (e.g., Michaels, 2003). Although Gibson has not achieved the name recognition of Piaget or Erikson, her ideas have inspired a new generation of researchers to investigate the construct of affordances. Indeed, affordances are now a popular topic in perceptual research; a PsycINFO search will produce over 1000 articles on the topic. Unlike Gibson, later researchers have studied affordances in all age groups, including adults. Affordances have been applied to a range of innovative topics, from automobile driving (Schwebel & Yocom, 2007) to text messaging (Reid & Reid, 2010). However, the concept of affordances is usually used in isolation rather than being integrated into Gibson's ecological framework. Some researchers are even attempting to create their own theories of affordances (e.g., Chemero, 2003) instead of revising Gibson's theory to accommodate new findings.

What affordances do you perceive in this image?
Affordances.jpg
Affordances.jpg


Diversity

Although Gibson's theory stressed the importance of the environment in development, she failed to explain potential differences in how children react to the environment. Indeed, her own words suggest that she did not attach much importance to differences in perception as a result of diversity characteristics, but instead thought that infants simply learned to perceive the one "true" reality. According to Gibson, "I think that cognition is based on perception, which is not representation of the world but is real" (Szokolszky, 2003, p. 275).

Fortunately, later researchers have expanded upon Gibson's ideas and have studied the ways in which culture, power, and other characteristics can affect the perception of affordances. For example, Kitayama et al. (2006) found that culture determines the emotional affordances that North American and Japanese adults perceive. In other words, although all emotions are theoretically "available" to experience, one's culture determines which emotions are perceived as salient. Guinote's (2007) research suggested that individuals with power tended to be more purposeful and attentive in perceiving affordances, and were thus more likely to behave in ways that were consistent with the demands of the environment than powerless individuals. Affordances are no longer viewed as simply physical properties of objects; instead, they now include interpersonal, intrapersonal, social, and cultural components.

Implications for the Conceptualization of Human Development

  • Implications of this theory point back to the table at the top of this page, but as a summary:
    • Gibson's theory focuses us on the interaction between humans (specifically children) and the environment
    • Focused on perception and how we perceive. We learn through perception of affordances
    • She did not pay much attention to internal processes like cognition, because according to her cognition comes from perceiving
    • Development looks similar throughout the lifespan. How we perceive doesn't change, just what we perceive. Our knowledge and skills get more specific and specialized.
    • Perception is species specific and she believed all humans perceive in the same way, thus little attention was paid to culture, gender differences, and other diversity areas

Critiques of Gibsonian Theory


Original Form


Strengths:
  • Focus on the ecological context of perception (Miller, 2002)
  • "Putting the body back into development" (p. 262, Miller, 2002), Gibson focused not only on what children know, but what they do
  • Focus on what children do in the "real world" (tried to make lab setting as real as possible (Szokolszky, 2003)

Weaknesses:
  • "Unclear account of cognition" (p. 363, Miller, 2002), Gibson's theory is one of direct perception and does not seem to take into account that behaviors may involve indirect, interpretive cognition
  • Expensive and complicated experiment set up
  • Did not study past early childhood, so it is hard to generalize this theory through the entire lifespan

Contemporary Form


Strengths:
  • Expanded upon original theory to include perception at all ages
  • Social, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (e.g., emotions, personal growth) affordances now studied
  • Social constructionism of affordances are now acknowledged and studied instead of focusing on how infants learn to perceive the single "true" reality

Weaknesses:
  • No credit given to Gibson for her seminal work on affordances; credit given to James Gibson because he coined the term
  • Affordances studied as an isolated construct; not integrated into any theory, let alone Gibson's theory
  • Little agreement and much philosophical debate on the definition of affordances, leading to confusion over the operationalization of the construct (Chemero, 2003; Michaels, 2003)

Articles for Further Reading


Chemero, A. (2003). An outline of a theory of affordances. Ecological Psychology, 15, 181-195.
external image pdf.png chemerotheory.pdf

Gibson, E.J., Gibson, J. J., Pick, A. D., & Osser, H. (1962). A developmental study of the discrimination of letter-like forms. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 55, 897-906.
external image pdf.png gibson1962.pdf

Gibson, E. J. (1988). Exploratory behavior in the development of perceiving, acting, and the acquiring of knowledge. Annual Review of Psychology, 39, 1-41.
external image pdf.png gibson1988.pdf

Kitayama, S., Mesquita, B., & Karasawa, M. (2006). Cultural affordances and emotional experience: Socially engaging and disengaging emotions in Japan and the United States. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 890-903.
external image pdf.png kitayama2006.pdf

References


Chemero, A. (2003). An outline of a theory of affordances. Ecological Psychology, 15, 181-195.

Gibson, E. J. (1988). Exploratory behavior in the development of perceiving, acting, and the acquiring of knowledge. Annual Review of Psychology, 39, 1-41.

Gibson, E. J. & Pick, A. D. (2000). An Ecological Approach to Perceptual Learning and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Guinote, A. (2008). Power and affordances: When the situation has more power over powerful than powerless individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 237-252.

Kitayama, S., Mesquita, B., & Karasawa, M. (2006). Cultural affordances and emotional experience: Socially engaging and disengaging emotions in Japan and the United States. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 890-903.

Michaels, C. F. (2003). Affordances: Four points of debate. Ecological Psychology, 15, 135-148.

Miller, P. (2002). Theories of Developmental Psychology (4th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Reid, F. J. M., & Reid, D. J. (2010). The expressive and conversational affordances of mobile messaging. Behaviour and Information Technology, 29, 3-22.

Schwebel, D. C., & Yocom, J. S. (2007). How personality and reward relate to automobile drivers' judgments of affordances using their own vehicles. Ecological Psychology, 19, 49-68.

Sorce, J. F., Emde, R. N., Campos, J., & Klinnert, M. D. (1985). Maternal emotional signaling: Its effect on the visual cliff behavior of 1-year-olds. Developmental Psychology, 21, 195-200.

Szokolszky, A. (2003). An interview with Eleanor Gibson. Ecological Psychology, 15, 271-281.