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The Tension Between the Psychological and Ecological Sciences: Making Psychology More Ecological

  • Harry HeftEmail author
Chapter
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 4)

Abstract

In spite of the fact that psychology has been committed to an evolutionary framework for over a century, ecological approaches to psychology, first proposed several decades ago, continue to be marginalized within the discipline. Considering the shared lineage of evolutionary and ecological thinking, this situation seems paradoxical, and, indeed, it reflects an underlying tension between the psychological and ecological sciences. The basis for this tension can be traced historically to psychology’s early embrace of Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary view of environment-mind correspondence, which is incompatible with the dynamic, relational character of ecosystems thinking. In this respect, William James criticized Spencer for failing to recognize the active and selective character of thought and action, which for James, is the hallmark of psychological processes. From this starting point, James’s psychology and philosophy of radical empiricism offers a relational and dynamic approach that is more in keeping with ecological thinking, particularly as these ideas were extended by James’s student, E. B. Holt, in his treatment of purposive, situated behavior. James Gibson’s ecological approach to perceiving builds, in part, on these bodies of work, and his concept of affordances locates meaning in perceiver-environment relations, that is, in situated action. Further, the ecological approach of Roger Barker, with its concept of behavior setting, offers an opportunity to bring sociocultural processes to bear on situated action. It is seen that socially normative actions are situated in behavior settings and have the character of being both regulated and flexible, dual properties that are examined through a consideration of Hayek’s analysis of purposive action. Collectively, these contributions advance an approach to psychology that is coordinative with the perspective of the ecological sciences.

Keywords

Situate Action Behavior Setting Ecological Approach Action Tendency Sociocultural Context 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Jonathan Barker and to the editors of this volume for their helpful comments on drafts of this chapter. I also thank Rob Wozniak for helpful conversations on nineteenth-century psychology.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyDenison UniversityGranvilleUSA

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