Saturday, April 21, 2012

Two Ecological Approaches 30 years later

Abstract:  In 1982, Cutting pointed out that two distinct theoretical programs were developing within the tradition rooted in James J. Gibson’s work on perception: Ecological Psychology. Thirty years later, the two traditions are alive and well. While the distinctions between them are still rarely discussed in print, they have become even more obvious, as the traditions have continued to develop in the directions predicted in Cutting’s paper. Updating the status of the “two ecological perspectives” requires both an assessment of the research generated by the two different perspectives, the theoretical arguments in which the differences are most salient, and the reasons why no rift has formed in the field. Part of the reason ecological psychology has stayed unified seems to be the focus on, and respect for empirical progress. Another important factor seems to be ecological psychologists’ diversification into research areas more concerned with methodological sophistication than with theoretical baggage.

---------------Below are excerpts from a paper I am preparing. The paper is mostly finished. This is a summary, and I would greatly appreciate any suggestions. In particular, I am looking for papers or books that continue to evidence these issues as important to the field - Chemero's book and Andrew and Ken's online debates are clear examples, as well as the explicit debates about afforadnces in Ecological Psychology. However the issues are deeper than that. Any suggestions and comments welcome. ---------------

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Verbal Behavior, the Weather Man, and the Fundamental Lie of Professional Poker

I am reading Skinner's Verbal Behavior for the first time with my undergraduate class. It is amazingly good. The only criticism I would make thus far is that it is tinted throughout with the quirkiness of Skinner's particular brand of behaviorism, which is to be expected. Anyone who is trying to do language in an embodied or ecological context, who hasn't read this book and picked out the important points, should do so post haste. The next time I go through the book, a blog book-club will definitely be in order.

One question that my students raised early on struck at a fundamentally important point in modern intellectual development. What, they asked, does Skinner mean by:
Our basic datum is not the occurrence of a given response as such, but the probability that it will occur at a given time.
The idea that science is interested in probability, and not certainty, is still foreign to most people. However, it is a crucial idea, that permeates our modern world. Two great examples are found in the attitude of the professional weatherman and the professional poker player, both of which are poorly understood.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The APA convention can be worth while?!?

Last year I attended the American Psychological Association's annual meeting for the first time in over a decade. The main conference was as much a waste of time as I had remembered. It was filled with sad talks given to mostly empty rooms and sad poster presentations that only a handful of people stopped at (including my own). The only filled rooms were for awards talks, where people talked about work long past. That was really interesting, but only if they were in an area you were not familiar with, and people tended not to attend talks in areas they were unfamiliar with. (In fairness, many rooms were filled for talks that counted as continuing education credits for clinicians, as well as a few "advice" sessions for students.)

That said, it was actually a very positive experience; I was now connected enough to find out about The APA Shadow Conference (© Charles 2012). It turns out that almost every APA division has a bunch of meetings, small talks, and organized discussions in dedicated hotel suites, and that a lot of very interesting stuff happens there. Small groups (ranging from 5 to 25) people interested in similar topics were continuously coming together, with discussion continuing over meals and across days. Most of the time the suites were filled to a neigh ideal level of intimacy, sometimes they were downright crowded. Never was a person talking to an empty room, nor was a speaker ever addressing people who were not genuinely interested. This was actually worth while!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What should an Intro Textbook do?

The last post highlighted points from a 2008 article in which I suggested several things were wrong with introductory psychology courses, at least as they are commonly taught in the US. The context of the article was an issue of Journal für Psychologie, dedicated to discussing curriculum and 'paradigm' in psychology, with some emphasis (I was told) on pushing back against the broad trends towards Americanization of the European educational system. Hence, the mostly negative tone of the article.

I am not saying that everyone in the US teaches a bad intro psych class; I have seen some very good intro-psych instructors, and I have seen some adventurous teaching ideas that I suspect lead to very good classes. On the other hand, I am willing to say that there are no great textbooks for intro psych, at least not in the current US market, and that most instructors here follow the textbook. Sure, some of the textbooks are better than others, but frankly even the better ones do not, in my opinion, do a very good job. We tend to think that lower level classes need not be fussed over as much as upper level classes, and this attitude is understandable based on the way our profession prioritizes, and the reward structures we set up. However, as was pointed out, a single semester of Introductory Psychology is the only exposure most students will ever get to our field, and an amazing percentage of US students receive that brief exposure. Graham asked if I could say something more about what I would like to see in an introductory textbook, and I have received similar inquiries from others. I'm not sure I can answer that, exactly, but I can say a bit about what I think the responsibilities the author should be. Hopefully others will join in.