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
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
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.
The full sequnce was not described in this publication.
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.).
Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to “the social psychology of creativity.” Harvard University Press.
Baggs, E., and Chemero, A. (2018). Radical embodiment in two directions. Synthese, 1–16.
Bates, E. (1979). The biology of symbols: Some concluding thoughts. In E. Bates, I. Benigni, L. Camaioni, & V. Volterra (Eds.), The emergence of symbols: Cognition and communication in infancy (pp. 315–370). Academic Press.
Bjorklund, D. F., & Gardiner, A. K. (2011). Object play and tool use: Developmental and evolutionary perspectives. In A. D. Pellegrini (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the development of play (pp. 153–171). Oxford University Press.
Bongers, R. M. (2001). An action perspective on tool use and its development. Ph.D. Thesis, KU Nijmegen.
Chemero, A. (2003). An outline of a theory of affordances. Ecological Psychology, 15(2), 181–195.
Costall, A. (1995). Socializing affordances. Theory & Psychology, 5(4), 467–481.
Costall, A. (2003). From direct perception to the primacy of action: A closer look at James Gibson’s ecological approach to psychology. In G. J. Bremner & A. M. Slater (Eds.), Theories of infant development (pp. 70–89). Blackwell.
Costall, A. (2012). Canonical affordances in context. AVANT., III(2), 85–93.
Currie, G. (2006). Rationality, decentring, and the evidence for pretence in non-human animals. In S. Hurley, M. Nudds (eds.) Rational Animals? 275–290. University Press.
De Preester, H. (2012). The sensory component of imagination: The motor theory of imagination as a present-day solution to Sartre’s critique. Philosophical Psychology, 25(4), 503–520.
Dent-Read, C. H. (1997). A naturalistic study of metaphor development: Seeing and seeing as. In C. E. Dent-Read & P. E. Zukow-Goldring (Eds.), Evolving explanations of development: Ecological approaches to organism–Environment systems (pp. 255–296). American Psychological Association.
Di Paolo, E. A. (2016). Across the Uncanny Valley: The Ecological, the Enactive, and the Strangely Familiar. Constructivist Foundations, 11(2), 327–329.
Fajen, B. R. (2007). Affordance-based control of visually guided action. Ecological Psychology, 19(4), 383–410.
Fehr, K. K., & Russ, S. W. (2016). Pretend play and creativity in preschool-age children: Associations and brief intervention. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 10(3), 296–301.
Fodor, J. A. (1975). The language of thought (Vol. 5). Harvard University Press.
Fultot, M., Nie, L., & Carello, C. (2016). Perception-action mutuality obviates mental construction. Constructivist Foundations, 11(2), 298–307.
Harris, P., & Kavanaugh, R. D. (1993). Young children's understanding of pretense. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev, 58(1).
Heft, H. (2020). Ecological psychology and enaction theory: divergent groundings. Front psychol, 11, 991.
Hodges, B. H. (2014). “Righting language: a view from ecological psychology.” Language Sciences 41, 93–103.
Gibson, J. J. (1966). The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Houghton Mifflin.
Gibson, J. J. (1967). New reasons for realism. Synthese, 17(1), 162–172.
Gibson, J. J. (1979/2014). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Houghton Mifflin.
Gibson, J. J. (1982). Notes on affordances. In: Reasons for realism: Selected essays of James J. Gibson. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Incorporated. Erlbaum.
Good, J. M. (2007). The affordances for social psychology of the ecological approach to social knowing. Theory Psychol, 17(2), 265–295.
Gopnik, A., & Walker, C. M. (2013). Considering Counterfactuals: The Relationship between Causal Learning and Pretend Play. Am J Play, 6(1), 15–28.
Heft, H. (1990). Perceiving affordances in context: A reply to Chow. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20(3), 277–284.
Heras-Escribano, M. (2019). The philosophy of affordances. Palgrave Macmillan.
Hoff, E. V. (2013). The relationship between pretend play and creativity. The Oxford handbook of the development of imagination, 403–416.
Kahrs, B. A., Jung, W. P., & Lockman, J. J. (2013). Motor origins of tool use. Child Development, 84(3), 810–816.
Kiverstein, J. D., & Rietveld, E. (2018). Reconceiving representation-hungry cognition: An ecological-enactive proposal. Adaptive Behavior, 26(4), 147–163.
Kiverstein, J., van Dijk, L., & Rietveld, E. (2019). The field and landscape of affordances: Koffka’s two environments revisited. Synthese, 1–18.
Koffka, K. (1935). Principles of Gestalt psychology. Harcourt, Brace, & World.
Kugler, P. N., Shaw, R. E., Vincente, K. J., & Kinsella-Shaw, J. (1990). Inquiry into intentional systems I: Issues in ecological physics. Psychological Research, 52(2–3), 98–121.
Leslie, A. M. (1987). Pretense and representation: The origins of “theory of mind”. Psychological Review, 94(4), 412–426.
Lillard, A. S. (1993). Young children’s conceptualization of pretense: Action or mental representational state? Child Development, 64, 372–386.
Lillard, A. (2001). Pretend play as twin earth: A social-cognitive analysis. Developmental Review, 21(4), 495–531.
Lillard, A. S. (2015). The development of play. In Lerner (Ed.) Handbook of child psychology and developmental science, Ch.11., 425–468.
Lockman, J. J. (2000). A perception–action perspective on tool use development. Child Development, 71(1), 137–144.
Lockman, J. J., & Kahrs, B. A. (2017). New insights into the development of human tool use. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(4), 330–334.
Loveland, K. A. (1991). Social affordances and interaction II: Autism and the affordances of the human environment. Ecological Psychology, 3(2), 99–119.
Mace, W. M. (2005). James J. Gibson’s ecological approach: Perceiving what exists. Ethics and the Environment, 10(2), 195–216.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/2014). Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge.
Musatti, T., & Mayer, S. (1987). Object substitution: Its nature and function in early pretend play. Hum Dev, 30(4), 225–235.
Nichols, S., & Stich, S. (2003). Mindreading: An Integrated Account of Pretence, Self-Awareness and Understanding of Other Minds. Oxford University Press.
Noë, A., & Thompson, E. (2004). Are there neural correlates of consciousness? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 11(1), 3–28.
O’Regan, J. K., & Noë, A. (2001). A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(5), 939–1031.
Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. W.W. Norton.
Piaget, J. (1962). Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. Norton.
Piaget, J. and lnhelder, B. (1969) The psychology of the child. Basic Books, New York.
Read, C., & Szokolszky, A. (2018). An emerging developmental ecological psychology: Future directions and potentials. Ecological Psychology, 30(2), 174–194.
Read, C., and Szokolszky, A. (2020). Ecological Psychology and Enactivism: Perceptually-Guided Action vs. Sensation-Based Enaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.
Rietveld, E., & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A rich landscape of affordances. Ecological Psychology, 26(4), 325–352.
Rucinska, Z. (2014). Basic pretending as sensorimotor engagement?. In Contemporary sensorimotor theory (pp. 175–187). Springer.
Rucińska, Z. (2016a). Enactive mechanism of make-belief games. In Digital make-believe (pp. 141–160). Springer.
Rucińska, Z. (2016b). What guides pretence? Towards the interactive and the narrative approaches. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 117–133.
Rucińska, Z. (2017). The role of affordances in pretend play. Embodiment, enaction, and culture: Investigating the constitution of the shared world, 257–278.
Rucińska, Z. (2019). Social and Enactive Perspectives on Pretending. AVANT. Pismo Awangardy Filozoficzno-Naukowej, 3, 1–27.
Rucinska, Z., & Reijmers, E. (2014). Between philosophy and therapy: Understanding systemic play therapy through embodied and enactive cognition (EEC). InterAction-The journal of Solution Focus in organisations, 6(1), 37–52.
Rucinska, Z., & Reijmers, E. (2015). Enactive account of pretend play and its application to therapy. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 175.
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 EB Holt (pp. 157–190). Transaction.
Shaw, R., and Mace, W. (2005). “The value of oriented geometry for ecological psychology and moving image art,” in Moving Image Theory: Ecological Considerations, eds A. Anderson and B. Anderson (Southern Illinois University Press).
Shaw, R. E. Turvey, M. T., & Mace, W. (1982). Ecological psychology: The con- sequences of a commitment to realism. In W. Weimer & D. Palermo (Eds.), Cognition and the symbolic processes (Vol. 2.). Erlbaum
Smith, P. K., & Dutton, S. (1979). Play training in direct 84 and innovative problem solving. Child Development, 50(85), 830–836.
Smitsman, A. W. (1997). The development of tool use: Changing boundaries between organism and environment In: C. E. Dent-Read, & P. E. Zukow-Goldring (1997). Evolving explanations of development: Ecological approaches to organism–environment systems (297–330). American Psychological Association, 301–330.
Smitsman, A., and Bongers, R. (2003). Tool use and tool making: A developmental action perspective. Handbook of developmental psychology, 172–193.
Suchman, L. A. (2007). Plans and situated actions: The problem of human-machine communication. Cambridge university press.
Szokolszky, A. (1996). Using an object as if it were another: The perception and use of affordances in pretend object play. CT, USA: University of Connecticut. UNI order number: AAM9605501 Dissertation Abstract International: SectionB: The Sciences and Engineering.
Szokolszky, A. (1997). Using An Object As If It Were Another: The Perception And Use Of Affordances In Pretend Object Play. In M. A. Schmuckler, & J. M. Kennedy. Studies in Perception and Action IV: Ninth Annual Conference on Perception and Action (p. 153). Psychology Press.
Szokolszky, A. (2006). Object use in pretend play: Symbolic or functional? In A. Costall & O. Dreier (Eds.), Doing things with things: The design and use of everyday objects (pp. 67–86). Ashgate Publishing.
Szokolszky, A., Read, C., Palatinus, Z., & Palatinus, K. (2019). Ecological approaches to perceptual learning: Learning to perceive and perceiving as learning. Adaptive Behavior, 27(6), 363–388.
Szokolszky, Schmuckler, M. A., Kennedy, J. M. (2013). Using An Object As If It Were Another: The Perception And Use Of Afi ‘ordances In Pretend Object Play. In Studies in Perception and Action IV: Ninth Annual Conference on Perception and Action (p. 153). Psychology Press.
Turvey, M. T. (1992). Affordances and prospective control: An outline of the ontology. Ecological Psychology, 4(3), 173–187.
Turvey, M. T., Shaw, R. E., Reed, E. S., & Mace, W. M. (1981). Ecological laws of perceiving and acting: In reply to Fodor and Pylyshyn (1981). Cognition, 9(3), 237–304.
Van Dijk, L., & Myin, E. (2019). Reasons for pragmatism: Affording epistemic contact in a shared environment. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 18(5), 973–997.
Van Leeuwen, L., Smitsman, A., & van Leeuwen, C. (1994). Affordances, perceptual complexity, and the development of tool use. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 20(1), 174.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1976). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. In J. S. Bruner, A. Jolly, & K. Sylva (Eds.), Play - Its role in development and evolution (pp. 538–554). Basic Books, Inc.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1981). The instrumental method in psychology. In J. V. Wertsch (Ed.), The concept of activity in Soviet psychology. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Webster, D. (2020). Prefatory Notes to Kiverstein, van Dijk and Reitveld (2019) “The field and landscape of affordance: Koffka's two environments revisited” Online at: www.academia.edu/39221865. Date retrieved 4/21/2020
Weimer, W. B., & Palermo, D. S. (Eds.) (1982). Gibson-Shaw Discussion. Cognition and the Symbolic Processes, Vol. 2, 229. Erlbaum, 227–239.
Withagen, R., De Poel, H. J., Araújo, D., & Pepping, G. J. (2012). Affordances can invite behavior: Reconsidering the relationship between affordances and agency. New Ideas in Psychology, 30(2), 250–258.
Witherington, D. C., & Heying, S. (2013). Embodiment and agency: Toward a holistic synthesis for developmental science. In Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 44, pp. 161–192).
Witt, J. K., & Riley, M. A. (2014). Discovering your inner Gibson: Reconciling action-specific and ecological approaches to perception–action. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 21(6), 1353–1370.
Zukow, P. G. (1984). Criteria for the emergence of symbolic conduct: When words refer and play is symbolic. In L. Feagans, C. Garvey and R. Golinkoff (Eds.), The origins and growth of communication. 162–175. NJ: Ablex.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Szokolszky, A., Read, C. Pretend play with objects: an ecological approach. Phenom Cogn Sci (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-021-09755-w
- Ecological account of pretense
- Enactive account of pretense
- Pretend object play
- Non-representational account of pretend play
- Ecological Psychology