Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology

By Edward S. Reed | Go to book overview

3
Affordances: A New Ecology for Psychology

Behavior as an Environmental Factor

Ecological psychology holds that behavior and awareness are an animal's ways of discovering and using key resources--the values and meanings--of the animal's surroundings. Human beings are no different from other animals in this regard, although we have evolved some novel cooperative methods for these processes of discovery and use. The key to understanding resource use, whether in evolution generally or more specifically in regard to psychological evolution, is to find the selective processes that constrain and change the varieties of resource use found in a population (see Darden & Cain, 1989, for more on "selectionist" theories in general). This chapter argues that the source of the psychological components of natural selection are the affordances of the environment. It is argued that these affordances select and shape animal behavior and awareness, not only on the time scale of natural selection but also within more narrow time scales, such as that of ontogeny, learning, and individual behavioral acts. The concept of affordances as the basis of animacy and sentience is ecological psychology's contribution to our general understanding of the evolution of animals within the environment.

Animate behavior and sentience are natural events: they are evolved aspects of all animals and as such exist within the environment in specific ways. Our terrestrial environment encompasses many things, from small particles of sand and even smaller unicellular creatures on up to trees, fields, lakes, forests, and even larger entities that shape whole continents, such as rivers and mountain ranges. The events of our environment also vary from the microscopic in time to cycles of extremely long duration, from the momentary dappling of shade under a tree to the diurnal cycle of night into day, to seasonal cycles, on up to geological events such as the elevation or subsidence of mountain ranges. How does behavior fit into these scales of our environment, and what are the limits of variability of behavior within our terrestrial ecology?

Darwin studied earthworm behavior because he was interested in an important ecological effect of their behavior: the formation of topsoil. To study the rate of deposition of soil by the action of worms, Darwin had to conduct experiments over a period of decades ( Darwin, 1837/ 1977, 1869/ 1977). Although the activities of individual worms obviously take place over much shorter durations and smaller areas, the effects

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Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface and Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction: the Significance of the Psychological 3
  • 1 - Regulation Versus Construction 9
  • Conclusion: the Fundamental Hypothesis of Ecological Psychology 18
  • 2 - An Evolutionary Psychology 20
  • Conclusion 27
  • 3 - Affordances: A New Ecology for Psychology 29
  • Conclusion: the Evolution of Behavior Among the Affordances of the Environment 45
  • 4 - The Importance of Information 47
  • Conclusion 67
  • 5 - Functional Systems and the Mechanisms of Behavior 68
  • Conclusion 82
  • 6: Varieties of Action Systems 83
  • 7 - The Effort After Value and Meaning 96
  • Conclusion 110
  • 8 - The Human Environment 111
  • Conclusion 125
  • 9 - Becoming a Person 126
  • Conclusion: Becoming A Person and Entering into A Culture 138
  • 10 - The Daily Life of the Mind 140
  • Conclusion 151
  • 11 - Entering the Linguistic Environment 153
  • Conclusion 167
  • 12 - Streams of Thought 169
  • Conclusion 183
  • Epilogue: The Significance of Ecological Psychology 184
  • Conclusion 189
  • References 191
  • Index 207
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