Evaluation

The ecological approach to perception has proved successful in some ways. First, Gibson's views have had a major impact at the philosophical level. According to Gibson (1979, p. 8):

The words "animal" and "environment" make an inseparable pair. Each term implies the other. No animal could exist without an environment surrounding it. Equally, though not so obvious, an environment implies an animal (or at least an organism) to be surrounded.

As Gordon (1989, p. 176) expressed it:

Direct perceptionists can be said to have restored the environment to its central place in the study of perception.. .organisms did not evolve in a world of simple isolated stimuli.

Second, Gibson was right that visual stimuli provide much more information than had previously been thought to be the case. Traditional laboratory research had generally involved static observers looking at impoverished visual displays, often with chin rests being used to prevent head movements. Not surprisingly, such research had failed to reveal the richness of the information available in the everyday environment. In contrast, Gibson correctly emphasised that we spend much of our time in motion, and that the consequent moment-by-moment changes in the optic array provide much useful information (see later in the chapter).

Third, Gibson was correct in arguing that inaccurate perception often depends on the use of very artificial situations. However, the notion that visual illusions are merely unusual trick figures dreamed up by psychologists to baffle ordinary decent folk does not apply to all of them. Some visual illusions produce effects similar to those found in normal perception. Consider, for example, the vertical-horizontal illusion shown in Figure 3.6. The two lines are actually the same length, but the vertical line appears longer than the horizontal one. This tendency to overestimate vertical extents relative to horizontal ones can readily be shown with real objects by taking a teacup, saucer, and two similar spoons. Place one spoon horizontally in the saucer and the other spoon vertically in the cup, and you should find that the vertical spoon looks much longer.

Fourth, the numerous laboratory studies apparently providing support for constructivist theories do not necessarily cast doubts on Gibson's direct theory. As Cutting (1986, p. 238) pointed out:

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