Friday, 30 November 2012

Task Dynamics And The Information They Create

Over the next weeks I want to turn my attention to a detailed account of the process by which you go about studying affordances (formalised as task dynamics) and the perception of affordances (via the kinematic consequences of those task dynamics) using throwing for maximum distances and for accuracy as the task. This post will introduce the basic research programme. Future posts will work through papers from my colleagues Qin Zhu & Geoff Bingham in order (I've done a couple already), as well as work from the animal literature because I want to find ways to use the analyses we're developing to answer questions about throwing and weight perception there.

These posts will do a few things. First, it's important to be as clear as possible about what affordances are, how we might possibly perceive them and how we can do the relevant science within the ecological approach to answer those two questions. Sabrina is developing ways to apply these methodological principles to the study of language, and we have both been working on the issue of information and how it comes to have meaning for us. Being clear about how this all unfolds in the perception-action literature is vital, because this is the foundation for what comes next. Second, I'm working on some throwing data right now and I need to work through the key papers in detail anyway. Third, I'm going to be developing an undergraduate perception-action class for 2014, and this will help me develop course material by laying out the form of the analysis and getting feedback on how well it's coming across. One of my goals is to look at all my collated and edited notes and realise I've accidentally written a text book :)

I'm going to talk about throwing because it's utterly fascinating. It's a complex task but it's one centred around a core dynamic (that of
projectile motion) that physics has a pretty good handle on. This is letting us run detailed simulations of the task to identify the affordance structure of the task and see how throwers are operating with respect to those. Throwing entails perception of object and target affordances and the coordination of multiple body segments into precisely timed actions controlled by that perception. It also connects to all kinds of things in our evolutionary history (including, possibly, the origins of spoken language in the form we know) and our psychology (including the size-weight illusion and issues of the psychologist's fallacy). It's close to being that grail of psychology, something only humans do (other animals throw but rarely if ever for the kinds of distances and accuracy we can manage with ease). And most of all, it is endlessly interesting. The deeper I get into this, the cooler it gets. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Psychological me at camera 3

Psychological Science, I think we need to talk. I was reading this farewell from your outgoing editor, and it would all be nice enough if I hadn't also just read your latest offering to the altar of 'embodied' cognition. Frankly, it made me wonder whether you actually read all the things you publish.

Robert Kail, the outgoing editor, had this to say about the ideal Psychological Science paper:
...the ideal Psychological Science manuscript is difficult to define, but easily recognized — the topic is fundamental to the field, the design is elegant, and the findings are breathtaking.
There are a few problems here; 'breathtaking' results have the tendency to be wrong, for example, and while I'm all for elegant design, sometimes, to make a breath taking claim, you need to run those 4 control conditions. But my main problem is less with these criteria and more with the papers that apparently meet them.

Friday, 9 November 2012

How do we perceive which objects afford throwing the farthest?

Previous work has established that people with throwing experience can perceive the affordance of 'throwability'. If you let these people heft objects with a range of sizes and weights, they will confidently select the one they think they can throw the farthest, and they tend to be correct. It's a very natural task, one you have probably done yourself on a beach or lakeside looking for stones to throw into the water. 

This is only the first, and relatively easy step in any ecological task analysis. Once you've identified an affordance property and established that people are sensitive to it, you need to identify the information supporting this perception. For throwing, this has not been done, and while the paper I'm reviewing here doesn't solve the problem, it does rule out a highly likely contender for the source of the information that has implications for a lot of other research.