Perception and Action: Context-specificity

Research by Adolph, Eppler, and Gibson on infant responses to slopes has provided insight into the interplay between perception and action. In the research, infants with different forms of mobility(crawlers or walkers) were encouraged to ascend and descend slopes with different degrees of steepness. The walkers were wary of slopes of 20 degrees or more whereas the crawlers fearlessly attempt slopes of 20 degrees or more. As the crawlers increased in experience, they learned to avoid descending the steeper slopes. However, when crawlers first begin to walk this avoidance pattern seems to disappear and they again plunged down the steep slope without hesitation.

These results seem to indicate that the perceptual knowledge that infants gain about the world is action-specific. Infants do not learn about slopes in general but rather, they learn about slopes-and-crawling and then slopes-and-walking. Research along these lines paints a picture of perception as being for specific action-routines. Thus, theoretical frameworks in cognitive science should be geared towards “motocentricity” rather can “visuocentricity”. This re-conceptualization ties in with what James Gibson posited almost 30 years ago in his book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception: that perception is tied in what we can do with perceptual information. Our perception of a chair is intimately coupled with the fact that chairs are for sitting. Gibson claimed that these perceptual affordances for action are directly perceived in the environment around us. So when an infant looks at a slope, he perceives that the slope affords for falling. The only trouble is putting such information about the environment into use using the context-specific motor schemas available to the infant.


Karen E. Adolph, Marion A. Eppler, Eleanor J. Gibson (1993) Crawling versus Walking Infants’ Perception of Affordances for Locomotion over Sloping Surfaces Child Development, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Aug., 1993), pp. 1158-1174


1 Comment

Filed under Psychology

One response to “Perception and Action: Context-specificity

  1. AP

    Enjoyed this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s