Thursday 18 July 2013

Ecological indirect perception

I want to follow on from Sabrina's important posts about information, and why psychology should be about information for the forseeable future. Sabrina's taxonomy includes information beyond what ecological psychologists talk about, information that needs to be investigated to find out exactly what kind of behaviour it can support. (This is what Gibson did for perception, and it paid off in spades.) 

I'm particularly interested in the information in pictures and mirrors; surfaces that present information about being surfaces and about being something else. This post is me thinking out loud about the implications; these are by no means my final thoughts on the matter, it's me taking the taxonomy for a spin and seeing where I end up. Feedback welcome!

Tuesday 9 July 2013

A new direction for psychology

I have my doubts about psychology. 

Anyone who's read this blog before knows that Andrew and I are fairly opinionated about what we think is right and wrong with psychology research. This isn't about small effect sizes or falsified data, which are currently popular (and valid) concerns. It's about the the types of questions psychologists usually ask and whether they are useful and likely to move the discipline forward. These questions are dominated by constructs - self esteem, prejudice, working memory capacity, intelligence, motivation - to the point where an alien reading a psychology journal would be forgiven for assuming that the point of psychology was to understand constructs, not people. 

Psychologists ask questions about constructs because the dominant theoretical paradigm (cognitive psychology) says that mental states play a causal role in behaviour and that, to understand how people work, you have to understand the content of these states and the nature of the cognitive processes that operate on them. This doesn't sound crazy. Even though I think cognitive psychology is a fatally flawed paradigm (see here, here, and here), I am enculterated enough in mainstream psychology that this doesn't automatically sound like a bad way of doing things. And anyway, I'm done doing active battle against cognitive psychology, so this post isn't to re-hash what I've written about elsewhere. Instead, I want to lay out what I think psychology should be doing. The idea is simple, but it's radically different from the mainstream. 

Here's the claim:

Information is the primary external cause of behaviour. If psychology is going to make any real progress, it must be grounded in a thorough analysis of the types of information available and the mechanisms by which information is used to control or precipitate behaviour. 

Here's the argument:

Monday 1 July 2013

Grounded vs. embodied cognition: a (hopefully uncontentious) note on terminology

Our Frontiers paper made the case that embodied cognition is, by definition, a fairly radical affair. We argue 
...if perception-action couplings and resources distributed over brain, body, and environment are substantial participants in cognition, then the need for the specific objects and processes of standard cognitive psychology (concepts, internally represented competence, and knowledge) goes away...
We argue that this is compulsory; as soon as you allow the perceived environment to play any kind of critical role in cognition, it's game on for what Shapiro calls 'replacement style' embodied cognition. This is why we don't think that we're just at one extreme end of a continuum of embodiment research; we think the rest of the field is making a category mistake. Chapter 2 of Chemero (2009) does an excellent job of laying out the history here; representations come from the structuralist school of thought, embodiment from the functionalist school. They are, quite literally, two different kinds of approach and mixing them is just an error.

I need to talk about this other stuff, though, and I'm tired of calling it 'not embodied cognition'. For one thing, the critical tone gets in the way of the argument. Shapiro calls it 'the conceptualisation hypothesis' and while this is basically accurate, it's a slightly non-intuitive technical term I'd have to explain all the time. So I want to be slightly cheeky and rename that other work, while picking a name they will hopefully not mind. This work, I think, is really grounded cognition (as per Barsalou, 2008) and that's how I'll talk about it from here on in.