Ecological Psychology and Social Psychology: Continuing Discussion

  • Eric P. CharlesEmail author
Regular Article


What form would an ideal merger of ecological and social psychology take? Is that ideal attainable? Many researchers and theorists are working to answer these questions. Charles (2009, 2011a) offered insights from E. B. Holt, one of James J. Gibson’s mentors, who argued that minds—mental kinds, processes, states, etc.—are observable aspects of the environment. Phrasing that in Ecological terms, the minds of other organisms are specified in the structure of ambient energy extended over time and space; they are directly perceivable by a properly attuned organism. Ecological Psychology enhances Holt’s story, by brining to the table a sophisticated theory of direct perception; Holt enhances the Ecological story by brining to the table a sophisticated theory about the nature of minds. The two combine to form the long-sought ideal merger. Thus, I claimed, Ecological Psychology will either rediscover its roots, or go through the trouble of re-creating them. This paper further develops those ideas, by presenting a simpler version of the argument, suggesting easy ways of dismissing that argument, and addressing the concerns expressed by Castro and Lafuente (2011).


Descriptive mentalism Direct perception E. B. Holt James J. Gibson New realism 



I am intensely grateful for the time and effort of those involved in this ongoing discussion. It is not often that people are willing to engage ideas in this deep a fashion, and even while the replies to my work have been largely negative they have also been constructive, and I am lucky to have my work receive such attention. Perhaps I should have prepared a point by point reply to Travieso & Jacobs’s critique and to Kono’s critique. It seemed, at least at the time, that the main critiques they rendered were better served by a follow up article. At the least, it might have been worth a) explicitly pointing out that New Realism is not Naïve Realism, b) acknowledging Travieso and Jacobs’s catch of my inappropriate use of the term “algebraic” (their footnote 2), and restating that ecological psychologists would do well to look beyond “continuous, unbounded functions” in their search for invariants.


  1. Castro, J., & Lafuente, E. (2011). “All you need is Holt”—is the socio-cultural phenomenon a problem for neorealist ecological psychology? Integrated and Psychological Behavioral Science, 45, 263–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Charles, E. P. (2009). The (old) new realism: what Holt has to offer for ecological psychology. Integrated and Psychological Behavioral Science, 43, 53–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Charles, E. P. (2011a). Ecological psychology and social psychology: it is holt or nothing! Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 45, 132–153.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Charles, E. P. (2011b) Seeing minds in behavior: descriptive mentalism. Review of General Psychology, in press.Google Scholar
  5. Chemero, A. (2009). Radical embodied cognitive science. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  6. Coss, R. G., & Charles, E. P. (2004). The role of evolutionary hypothesis in psychological research: instincts, affordances, relic sex difference. Ecological Psychology, 16, 199–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Costall, A. (2011). Against representationalism: James Gibson’s secret intellectual debt to E. B. Holt. In E. P. Charles (Ed.), A new look at new realism: The psychology and philosophy of E. B. Holt (pp. 243–261). Piscataway: Transaction.Google Scholar
  8. Cutting, J. E. (1982). Two ecological perspectives: Gibson vs. Shaw and Turvey. The American Journal of Psychology, 95, 199–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Holt, E. B. (1903). Eye-movement and Central Anaesthesia. Psychological Review, Monograph Supplement, 17, 3–45.Google Scholar
  10. Holt, E. B. (1906). Eye-movements during dizziness. Harvard Psychological Studies, 2, 57–66.Google Scholar
  11. Holt, E. B. (1909). On occular nystagmus and the localization of sensory data during dizziness. Psychological Review, 16, 377–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Holt, E. B. (1914). The concept of consciousness. New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  13. Holt, E. B. (1915). The Freudian wish and its place in ethics. New York: Macmillan Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Holt, E. B. (1931). Animal drive and the learning process. New York: Holt.Google Scholar
  15. Holt, E. B. (1934). The Argument for sensationism as drawn from Dr. Berkeley. Psychological Review, 41, 509–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Holt, E. B. (1936). Eight steps in neuro-muscular integration. In Problems of nervous physiology and of behavior (pp. 25–36). Tiflis: Georgian Branch, Academy of Sciences, USSR.Google Scholar
  17. Holt, E. B., Marvin, W. T., Montague, W. P., Perry, R. B., Pitkin, W. B., & Spaulding, E. G. (1910). The program and platform of six realists. Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and the Scientific Methods, 7, 393–401.Google Scholar
  18. Holt, E. B., Marvin, W. T., Montague, W. P., Perry, R. B., Pitkin, W. B., & Spaulding, E. G. (1912). The New Realism: Coöperative Studies in Philosophy. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  19. Kono, T. (2009). Social affordances and the possibility of ecological linguistics. Integrated Psychological and Behavioral Science, 43, 356–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Shaw, R. (2011). Ecological realism as a reaction to new realism: Holt’s legacy to Gibson. In E. P. Charles (Ed.), A new look at new realism: The psychology and philosophy of E. B. Holt (pp. 157–190). Piscataway: Transaction.Google Scholar
  21. Travieso, D., & Jacobs, D. M. (2009). The ecological level of analysis: can neogibsonian principles be applied beyond perception and action? Integrated Psychological and Behavioral Science, 43, 393–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Education, Humanities, and Social SciencesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityAltoonaUSA

Personalised recommendations