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Pretend play with objects: an ecological approach

Abstract

The ecological approach to object pretend play, developed from the ecological perspective, suggests an action- and affordance based perspective to account for pretend object play. Theoretical, as well as empirical reasons, support the view that children in pretense incorporate objects into their play in a resourceful and functionally appropriate way based on the perception of affordances. Therefore, in pretense children are not distorting reality but rather, they are perceiving and acting upon action possibilities. In this paper, we argue for the viability of an ecological theoretical framework to pretend object play which has been traditionally understood as a representational and metarepresentational ability. We discuss the origins and basic assumptions of the ecological approach to pretense. We layout details by presenting a qualitative analysis of a pretend play episode and discuss the results of an experimental study inspired by the ecological assumptions. We discuss pretend object play in the context of ecological work on tool use. We address the relationship between the enactive and the ecological approaches to pretend play, pointing out similarities as well as differences. We conclude that ecological and enactive approaches have shown that it is possible to challenge accepted interpretations and seek explanatory frameworks that could move the field in new directions

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Agnes Szokolszky’s PhD dissertation, titled Using an object as if it were another: The perception and use of affordances in pretend object play” was submitted at the Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action (CESPA), at the University of Connecticut, in 1996. Her thesis advisor was Catherine Read.

  2. 2.

    Gibson used the term “information” for the structure in ambient light, but this is unfortunate due to the semiological implications of this term (cf., Jones and Read, in press). Therefore, we do not use this term which implies coding and communication.

  3. 3.

    The full sequnce was not described in this publication.

  4. 4.

    The enjoyment manifested in this and other pretend cooking episodes might have been the source of a life-long attraction to cooking; as an adult my son is a great cook and sees cooking as an artistic activity in his life (A.Sz.).

  5. 5.

    This is move beyond Gibson is going back to Koffka and the concept of Afforderungscharakter or the demand characteristics in the experienced field of the world. See Withagen et al. (2012) and also Webster, 2020 for a critique of equating Gibson’s idea of affordances with that of the Gestaltists.

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Szokolszky, A., Read, C. Pretend play with objects: an ecological approach. Phenom Cogn Sci (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-021-09755-w

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Keywords

  • Ecological account of pretense
  • Enactive account of pretense
  • Pretend object play
  • Non-representational account of pretend play
  • Ecological Psychology