Encountering the World: Toward An Ecological Psychology

By Edward S. Reed | Go to book overview
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Human beings have specialized in collectivizing our motivations, as I shall show in the following chapters. We have evolved social relationships that coordinate efforts after both meaning and value. And an integral part of our development as infants are social situations that select and shape the objects toward which our efforts after meaning and value are directed, as well as the process in which these efforts are embodied.


Ecological psychology differs from previous psychologies at many levels of analysis. The definitions of action and awareness used here differ from those one finds in standard texts. Moreover, the emphasis in previous scientific psychologies has been on finding the causes of behavior and or awareness. In contrast, I am suggesting that scientific psychology should look more toward the meaning and significance of behavior than toward causes.

These differences between existing scientific psychologies and the new ecological psychology offered here are clearly seen by contrasting their approaches to motivation. Traditionally, motivation has been seen as an internal state of organisms, biasing an animal's behavior toward activities that the animal finds more satisfying. On this view, motivation is an internal mechanism, and states that vary along a single dimension (positive-negative; approach-avoid, etc.). In contrast, ecological psychology sees motivation as functional, not as a mechanism, and as being multi-dimensional. From an ecological point of view, motivation is constituted by the kinds of efforts animals tend to make to obtain values and meanings from the environment. These efforts may be influenced by internal mechanisms, but not reduced to them. And, while the internal states of efforts after value and meaning are not ignored here, they are treated as they should be, as simply one among many factors influencing the direction of behavior.

This novel concept of motivation as effort to find and use affordances and information leads to the even more novel concept of a collective effort after meaning and value. Social animals, especially humans, can work together to obtain what they need from the environment. This need not mean that every individual in a group does the same thing or that each individual has internalized the same motivational ideal or mechanism; on the contrary, each individual may do something that is unique in order that the group as a whole achieves its needs.


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Encountering the World: Toward An Ecological Psychology


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