Theories of Visual Perception

By Ian E. Gordon | Go to book overview

6

Direct perception and ecological optics: the work of J. J. Gibson

… perceiving is an act, not a response, an act of attention, not a triggered impression, an achievement, not a reflex.

(Gibson, 1979)

The theoretical position to be described in this chapter owes a great deal to the work of one man, the American psychologist, J. J. Gibson. His claim that perception is in an important sense direct, and his development of what has been called 'ecological optics', are among the most interesting theoretical developments in modern perceptual research. Since his death, Gibson's ideas have been refined and developed and he himself changed his views during the course of his career. In what follows we shall give a general account of what seem to be the most important aspects of this approach to perception; for the sake of clarity and economy, we shall not always indicate whether a particular idea or argument belongs to Gibson or to a follower of his, although major theoretical differences will be pointed out. The general term, 'direct perception', will be adopted. This has been given to the body of theory developed by Gibson and his followers that, it has been claimed, represents a new paradigm. The reader will note that, once again, visual examples dominate the account of a theory.The remainder of this chapter will cover the following topics:
• J. J. Gibson.
• An outline of the theory of direct perception.
• An evaluation of the theory of direct perception.
• More recent research.

J. J. Gibson

Gibson was born in 1904 and died in 1979. He was educated at Princeton and later took a teaching post at Smith College. He became known for his experiments and his theoretical writings after moving to Cornell University, where he stayed for the rest of his career.

Gibson's education gave him, initially, a behaviourist approach to his

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