An Ecological Approach to Perceptual Learning and Development

An Ecological Approach to Perceptual Learning and Development

An Ecological Approach to Perceptual Learning and Development

An Ecological Approach to Perceptual Learning and Development

Synopsis

The essential nature of learning is primarily thought of as a verbal process or function, but this notion conveys that pre-linguistic infants do not learn. Far from being "blank slates" that passively absorb environmental stimuli, infants are active learners who perceptually engage their environments and extract information from them before language is available. The ecological approach to perceiving-defined as "a theory about perceiving by active creatures who look and listen and move around" was spearheaded by Eleanor and James Gibson in the 1950s and culminated in James Gibson's last book in 1979. Until now, no comprehensive theoretical statement of ecological development has been published since Eleanor Gibson's Principles of Perceptual Learning and Development (1969). In An Ecological Approach to Perceptual Learning and Development, distinguished experimental psychologists Eleanor J. Gibson and Anne D. Pick provide a unique theoretical framework for the ecological approach to understanding perceptual learning and development. Perception, in accordance with James Gibson's views, entails a reciprocal relationship between a person and his or her environment: the environment provides resources and opportunities for the person, and the person gets information from and acts on the environment. The concept of affordance is central to this idea; the person acts on what the environment affords, as it is appropriate. This extraordinary volume covers the development of perception in detail from birth through toddlerhood, beginning with the development of communication, going on to perceiving and acting on objects, and then to locomotion. It is more than a presentation of facts about perception as it develops. It outlines the ecological approach and shows how it underlies "higher" cognitive processes, such as concept formation, as well as discovery of the basic affordances of the environment. This impressive work should serve as the capstone for Eleanor J. Gibson's distinguished career as a developmental and experimental psychologist.

Excerpt

This book aims to present a point of view consistent with biological evolutionary principles and at the same time with meaningful, humanistic ones. More specifically, it aims to make sense of a wealth of evidence now available on the way perception develops in early life; to present a way of thinking about how learning occurs in the process of perceiving; to show how perceptual development underlies knowledge about the world; and to relate these ideas to the ecological approach to perception as conceived by James J. Gibson and carried on my many able psychologists.

The human species enjoys by all counts the longest period of development of any we know of, including the other primates. What is going on during that long period? What are infants, for many months incapable of locomotion or even of handling objects, learning during this period? Plenty, as we will show. Many people have been amazed and impressed by the intellectual achievements of Helen Keller, both blind and deaf. How could she have a concept of “water, ” for example, when her tutor first spelled it in her hand? Her achievements are amazing, indeed, but we understand them better when we remember that she suffered the illness that robbed her of sight and hearing at 19 months. Now we know that those first 19 months provide developing infants with a wealth of experience that they do indeed use to advantage. They are acquiring an education by their own efforts, from the start.

Anyone who takes the time to think about it will recognize that perceptual learning has to play a large and important role in development. It is, we suggest, the only way of learning about the world, about oneself, and about the relation between these two interdependent entities before a child can benefit from verbal instruction. Prelinguistic infants may be able to think, but they must have . . .

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