Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 1353–1370 | Cite as

Discovering your inner Gibson: Reconciling action-specific and ecological approaches to perception–action

  • Jessica K. WittEmail author
  • Michael A. Riley
Theoretical Review


Both the action-specific perception account and the ecological approach to perception–action emphasize the role of action in perception. However, the action-specific perception account demonstrates that different percepts are possible depending on the perceiver’s ability to act, even when the same optical information is available. These findings challenge one of the fundamental claims of the ecological approach—that perception is direct—by suggesting that perception is mediated by internal processes. Here, we sought to resolve this apparent discrepancy. We contend that perception is based on the controlled detection of the information available in a global array that includes higher-order patterns defined across interoceptive and exteroceptive stimulus arrays. These higher-order patterns specify the environment in relation to the perceiver, so direct sensitivity to them would be consistent with the ecological claims that perception of the environment is direct and animal-specific. In addition, the action-specific approach provides further evidence for the theory of affordances, by demonstrating that even seemingly abstract properties of the environment, such as distance and size, are ultimately perceived in terms of an agent’s action capabilities.


Visual perception Embodied cognition 


Author note

Both authors contributed equally. The work was supported by NSF Grant No. BCS-0957051 to J.K.W.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Center for Cognition, Action, & PerceptionUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA

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