Friday 30 September 2011

Introduce yourselves, dear readers

Dear readers:

We keep finding out that all kinds of people are reading our blog, when you email us, or when we say 'hey, you should totally read our blog' and you say 'I already do!'. Lots of you don't comment much, though, so we never find out who you are and we're actually quite interested.

So if you read us, take a moment to leave us a comment below. Introduce yourselves, tell us a little bit about what you do and why you're reading us, and, if you blog and whatnot yourself, feel free to leave links for people to find your stuff too.

Also, please feel free to comment on things if you want to; we both see comments on any posts, even the old ones, and we like the attention! Plus we've had some great conversations with some of you who do comment, and begun all kinds of collaborations and things, and one thing we want from the blog is to open some lines of communication on our flavour of psychology that doesn't get a lot of traction in other, more mainstream blogs.

Andrew & Sabrina


  1. Well, you know Me, the swedish-american emotion researcher. I do try to spread the Word.

  2. i´m a psych student from psychoanalysis-ridden argentina

    i have you guys on my google rss, always an interesting read ;)

  3. i'm an ex psych student who found the state of psychology hopeless but hasn't totally let go of it yet :P

    after finding your blog i have regained some of my enthusiam for this matter, thank you for sharing your ideas!

  4. I teach in a doctoral program in leadership studies and am interested in the confluence of ecological psychology and phenomenology as a way to understand pragmatically the unity of scientific method. I am also deeply involved in studying GH Mead's work. I appreciate your blog for your vigorous efforts toward integrating non-dual non-representational discourse into the 'science' of psychology.

  5. I'm one of those pesky representational psychologists, working on multimodal object recognition, attainment of object constancy, that sort of thing. Still hesitate to call myself a neuroscientist despite mainly using EEG now. It's always interesting reading different viewpoints, especially where they're contrary to the common currency of my specific area.

  6. I'm an ecological psychologist and developmental psychobiologist interested in trying to find better ways to talk about psychology. I've got a bias towards radical theories because I like consistency in explanations. Currently teaching at Penn State, in the U.S.

  7. I'm a philosophy grad from Montréal, doing an M.A. on extended cognition and text mining research (in the philosophy department!) for a living.

  8. Psychology (perception/action) postdoc working at University of Western Ontario in Canada. Studied in Aberdeen, Scotland

  9. Hi Andrew and Sabrina.
    Congratulations on a great blog! I wanted to (and still intend to do so, time permitting) comment on some of your posts, especially because they are related to my research interests.
    Presently I work as a postdoc in Kelso's lab at the Center for Complex Systems.

  10. Hi Attila

    Look forward to your comments. Geoff and I have been reading your papers with pleasure, and I've got some studies to run this year that will connect up our stuff to yours a little more explicitly.

  11. I'm a parent-at-home, and here, at the kitchen table, a practical understanding of psychological stuff often makes the difference between a good moment's parenting and a very bad one. Other times, it's just for fun.

    Susan Harper

  12. Hello,

    I just found your blog 2 days ago. I have a B.S. in psych but have never done anything with it. After traveling quite a bit while teaching English, now I´m working in development and cooperation. I´m thinking of going back to get a grad degree in psych or interdisciplinary studies and I read for pure personal interest as well..

    Christina Brady

  13. Hi Andrew and Sabrina

    Very stimulating blog! I am interested in embodied cognition and embodied emotion, and am trying to to apply some of these ideas to motor control.

  14. Greetings from an old Hollywood music guy who accidentally fell back into academia for... fun? Doing research in media-music underscore's affective elements, I became strongly hooked on Gibson's theory as a guiding philosophy (in some quarters a lonely position), but as a musician I have to run hard to keep up with you and your readers' deeper knowledge of the science. So, I enjoy your blog for the Ecological company, and the mental exercise.

  15. Hi Peter, nice to meet you! :)

  16. Hello,
    I just found your blog via io9 & I'm staying up way too late b/c I haven't had this much fun reading in a long time! I hope can contribute something to your brainstorming. I agree that psychology seems to lack a fundamental 'theory of everything' & that it should be possible to find one.

    I'm a graduate student in plasma physics at UW Madison. I've been gaining interested in psychology / philosophy / cognitive science over the past couple years -- partly because of the irony of thinking about how we think! Also, I wonder what makes a great mind great.

  17. Hi Lucas; I've been replying to your comments, always feel free to comment on old posts, we always see them :)

    Always handy to have a physicist around in case we need to do any maths :) Glad you're enjoying it!

  18. Thanks, I appreciate you taking my comments seriously! Also, I'm glad you liked the cartoon.

    Heh, I hope number-crunching is not all I'm good for, I'd be a crumby physicist if that were the case! :-)

  19. My boyfriend sent me this blog last night, and I love it. I'm on my way to a masters, trying to become a developmental specialist.

  20. Hi Andrew & Sabrina,

    I have been following you on twitter for a while now but wasn't really reading the blog regularly when you first posted this. With these last few posts you have made me into an official reader!

    I'm a 1st year PhD student at UC Merced. While I knew of embodiment during my MS, I didn't really take a hard look at it until recently. I have been learning about embodiment through our speaker series this semester on spatial cogniton and and about dynamical systems mostly through Spivey (2007). I'm personally interested in conceptual information and its active influences on perception.

    I'm trying to wrap my mind around whether what you all consider the something vaguely like representations that happen in a dynamic system are what I have come to think of as representations. I have seen you note that people repurpose the term that way. Hopefully I will belatedly join your Chemero reading group over the semester break to further mind-wrap.

    Thanks for taking the time to write and share your thoughts!

  21. A colleague pointed me to your blog. You refer to a study I'm a co-author on, about the embodiment of weight, and about how that study is not really embodied cognition. I fully agree about that, by the way ;) But I think we share an interest, and hope you'd like more recent work I've done :) So I'm keeping track of your writing (and am reading the psychology of everyday things and other books by Norman because of your posts).

  22. about the embodiment of weight, and about how that study is not really embodied cognition. I fully agree about that, by the way ;)
    OK, it's hard to ask without being rude and you don't have to answer if you don't feel like it: but if you don't think it's embodied cognition, why say so in the paper?

    Sorry, that just piqued my interest too much :) Glad I'm getting people reading Donald Norman, anyway, his books are a delight :)

  23. Hi Andrew, that's not a rude question, but a logical one. First of all, I think what we found, that the weight of what you hold influences your thoughts about more abstract things, is pretty interesting irrespective of how you call it. When we wrote up these studies (mid 2008), this work was called embodiment. Yes, we thought about what it was and how it worked, how we should refer to it (physical associations?) but we did not come up with anything satisfactory, so we just adapted the terminology others were using. We have tried to talk some more about the processes in a 2011 paper (

    Currently, I personally think the term 'embodied cognition' is not very useful, scientificaly speaking. It's better to talk more about the processes you are investigating (simulation, metaphoric mappings, incorporating environmental information in cognitive processes, etc). I'm personally still learning as I go - I've written papers showing some 'embodied cognition' effects are really not embodied, but also wrote a recent paper (with the same colleagues as were involved in the weight papers) how people incorporate spatial distance in categorization processes: the space between response keys can facilitate keeping things apart on difficult categorizations (

    Perhaps this latter paper is more of what you think IS embodied cognition (even despite the fact it was again published in Psych Science, which I also agree is a rather crappy journal in terms of theoretical development, or perhaps even in general ;) ). But I think that talking about more specific underlying processes is the way forward. I'm most interested in the more general question of how meaning emerges in (and determined by) the context. Some of these processes some people might called embodied (as we have done in the past) but the story is going to be much more complex (and much more interesting) than that in the end.

  24. Hi Andrew and Sabrina,
    I'm a final year Psych undergrad who "found" dynamic systems/Gibson during a placement year. Very thankful to find Psychology bloggers free from the grasp of cunningly (and not-so-cunningly) disguised Cartesian demons.
    Keenly interested in reconciling cognitive science with philosophy. Every time I hear the word "representation" I can feel wittgenstein rolling in his grave.
    Love the blog!

  25. Hi Andrew and Sabrina,

    I found your blog from a link to the theory post a few days ago, and just now finished reading all the past posts. Good work- it's a really clear yet sufficiently detailed explanation of ecological psychology as I remember it.

    I'm a postdoc studying vocal perception and production at U de Montreal, specifically working on how people are able to match pitch, but a long time ago I was at UConn for undergrad+, and got a pretty solid grounding in Ecological Psych (including Turvey's perception course, which was not only the single hardest course I've ever taken, but also the most useful). I lost touch with current work in that field quite a while ago, but still pretty much agree with the basic framework- no poverty of the stimulus, direct perception, embodied cognition, all that jazz.

    Thing is, now that I'm studying singing, vocal imitation, and pitch perception, I find myself running into some of the old issues. It's obviously an action, and vocal pitch matching is guided pretty directly by the stimulus. The posts on the blog were a good refresher course in how to think about some of these effects in ecological terms.

    However, I'm still left with a few questions, some specific to my work, and others more general. I think that the ecological framework of perception and action does a really good job at describing perception and action, but I'm not so sure that the basic theoretical framework can account for the types of things that people generally find interesting about people. You already mentioned language, and my field, music, has many similarities to that. Language seems to me to be a domain where it DOES help to posit a representation. At the very least, it feels very strongly like a word represents something. In fact, it feels like a representation in the same way that it feels like we perceive the world, and not a representation thereof. I wouldn't argue that we need to let our feelings dictate our science, but I think this may need to be taken into account.

    I think that ecological psychology does a great job describing what animals do, and I have no doubt that people do those same tasks in the same direct-perceptiony kinda way, but when it comes to things that are more specific to humans, there doesn't seem to be a good way of integrating what we do into that sort of framework. If all we were studying was how we perceive and navigate the world, I'm sure that an ecological framework would've won out a long time ago (and it seems to have in robotics, which I agree is to psych as engineering is to physics).

    As for singing, it's an interesting case. For example, most people are readily able to sing back a note accurately. Singing is actually a nice domain within which to make ecological arguments, since we seem to be able to produce domain-relevant responses without even understanding what it is we're doing. However, when it comes to other types of music-relevant responses, such as identifying individual notes or determining whether a note is higher or lower, it seems to require a more controlled reasoning. In fact, we even tend to see behavioural dissociations between these two types of abilities, with some people being very good at basic music perception tasks but quite poor at matching pitches, and a smaller number being quite good at singing but unable to perceive basic pitch information (or even that they are singing well).

    I suppose that this is just a long way of saying that I'm probably half-way towards the ecological position- I think that it's the best way to describe the types of problems it's typically worked with, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that there's another, more representational system built over top of that, designed to handle the types of problems that representations are better at. Who ever said that the brain has to work only one way?

    Anyway, I've really enjoyed reading your thoughts there, and I hope you continue to post more.



  26. Hi Sean; thanks for your thoughts, and I'm really pleased you're enjoying the blog :)

    The problem of 'the problems ecological psychology cannot yet explain' is, unfortunately, still a problem. However, I think that no one's taken an honest shot at the problem yet, so I'm happy to rest on our empirical successes and say 'we only haven't solved it yet'. Then we just need to take that honest shot, see what happens.

    I've heard that about Turvey's class: insanely hard but deeply interesting. That about sums the man up :)

  27. Hi Sean,

    Thanks for commenting. Language is, indeed, often raised as something problematic for ecological psychology, but I don't think it's as mysterious or complex a behaviour as it's sometimes treated and I think we already have some idea of how ecological accounts might be extended to deal with things like language.

    Gibson's big idea was that perceptual information can give us direct access to meaning. For straight-up perception/action research, this meaning is something like the catchability of a fly ball - it's the affordance for that organism. This meaning has to be learned over time. First we have to learn to detect the right information variables and then we have to learn what that information means for our behaviour. I think this process of learning the meaning of information provides a basis for overlap between perception/action based ecological accounts and something like language.

    Spoken words are auditory events and language learners soon latch on to the spatiotemporal dynamics that characterise various word forms. In traditional ecological psych, the relationship between perceptual information and meaning is given by a specification relationship, i.e., there is a necessary relationship between what is happening in the world and the perceptual information. This is clearly not the case with language - the fact that "cat" means a small, rather friendly, house pet has nothing to do with the sound of the spoken word. The only thing that the auditory information for a given word form specifies is that something in the world made that sound. Thus the meaning of words is not underpinned by a specification relationship.

    But it is possible that the same process of meaning acquisition could operate in both the typical perception/action cases (like catching a fly ball) and in the case of language. Meaning tied to specification variables will necessarily be more stable than meaning tied to non-specifying variables, but this doesn't seem to be a particular problem. In fact, it seems perfectly reasonable.

    This is one perspective on taking ecological psych into traditionally cognitive domains. It's a hunch that needs to be tested, and, of course, it could be completely incorrect, but it seems like a reasonable starting point.