James J. Gibson

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James J. Gibson
Born January 27, 1904
McConnelsville, Ohio, U.S.
Died December 11, 1979
Ithaca, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Experimental psychology, visual perception
Alma mater Northwestern University, Princeton University
Doctoral advisor Herbert Langfeld
Influences Edwin B. Holt, Kurt Koffka, Eleanor J. Gibson

James Jerome Gibson (/ˈɡɪbsən/; January 27, 1904 – December 11, 1979), was an American psychologist who received his Ph.D. from Princeton University's Department of Psychology, and is considered one of the most important 20th century psychologists in the field of visual perception. Gibson challenged the idea that the nervous system actively constructs conscious visual perception, and instead promoted ecological psychology, in which the mind directly perceives environmental stimuli without additional cognitive construction or processing. [1]


James Jerome Gibson was born in McConnelsville, Ohio.[2] Gibson died in Ithaca, New York. He was married to fellow psychologist Eleanor J Gibson.

Ecological psychology[edit]

In his classic work The Perception of the Visual World (1950) he rejected the then fashionable theory of behaviorism for a view based on his own experimental work, which pioneered the idea that animals 'sampled' information from the 'ambient' outside world. He studied the concept of optical flow (later published as part of his theory of affordance). According to Gibson, one determines the optical flow (which can be described as the apparent flow of the movement of objects in the visual field relative to the observer) using the pattern of light on the retina.[3] The term 'affordance' refers to the opportunities for action provided by a particular object or environment. This concept has been extremely influential in the field of design and ergonomics: see for example the work of Donald Norman who worked with Gibson, and has adapted many of his ideas for his own theories.[4]

In his later work (such as, for example, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (1979)), Gibson became more philosophical and criticised cognitivism in the same way he had attacked behaviorism before. Gibson argued strongly in favour of direct perception and direct realism (as pioneered by the Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid), as opposed to cognitivist indirect realism. He termed his new approach ecological psychology. He also rejected the information processing view of cognition. Gibson is increasingly influential on many contemporary movements in psychology, particularly those considered to be post-cognitivist.[citation needed]

I seem to be, to my surprise, a member of a large profession. There are some 20.000 psychologists in this country alone, nearly all of whom have become so in my adult lifetime. They are all prosperous. Most of them seem to be busily applying psychology to problems of life and personality. They seem to feel, many of them, that all we need to do is to consolidate our scientific gains. Their self-confidence astonishes me. For these gains seem to me puny, and scientific psychology seems to me ill-founded. At any time the whole psychological applecart might be upset. Let them beware![5]


James J. Gibson's goal was to leave a lasting impact on knowledge. His work rejected the behaviorist assumption that all learning comes from the stimulus-response model, and provided a new lens with which to view perception.[6] Gibson's concern regarding visual perception was prompted by his contact with Gestalt psychology spokesman Kurt Koffka. Gibson challenged the idea that the environment was made up only of shapes and edges; arguing instead that the world is made up of meaningful features that are experienced continuously.[7]

Gibson's work on perception can be applied to aviation training,where training should be as realistic and unconstrained as possible. This is because Gibson characterized learning as an active process rather than as passive observation.[6]

Additionally, Gibson's theory of affordances provided a solution to the mind-world dualism issue. Previous theories of sensory meaning have argued that perceptions are separate and private from one another.[8] This stance placed all of the perceptive meaning on the individual, which meant there was no way to find common ground on individual's shared experiences.[7]


  • Gibson, J.J. & Gibson, E. (1955). Perceptual learning: differentiation or enrichment? Psyc. Rev., 62, 32–41.
  • Gibson, J.J. (1950). The Perception of the Visual World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Gibson, J.J. (1960). The Concept of the Stimulus in Psychology. The American Psychologist 15/1960, 694–703.
  • Gibson, J.J. (1966). The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-313-23961-4
  • Gibson, J.J. (1972). A Theory of Direct Visual Perception. In J. Royce, W. Rozenboom (eds.). The Psychology of Knowing. New York: Gordon & Breach.
  • Gibson, J.J. (1977). The Theory of Affordances (pp. 67–82). In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (eds.). Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing: Toward an Ecological Psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Gibson, J.J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.ISBN 0898599598 (1986)
  • Gibson, J.J. (1982). Reasons for Realism: Selected essays of James J. Gibson, E. Reed & R. Jones (eds.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. ISBN 978-0-89859-207-8


  1. ^ Rutherford, Raymond E. Fancher, Alexandra (2012). Pioneers of psychology : a history (4th ed. ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. p. 641. ISBN 978-0-393-93530-1. 
  2. ^ Office of the Home Secretary, National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, Volume 63
  3. ^ Alex Huk. (1999) "Seeing Motion: Lecture Notes." pp. 5
  4. ^ D. A. Norman (1999), Affordance, conventions, and design. Interactions (6, 3), 38–43
  5. ^ J.J. Gibson. (1967) Autobiography. In: Reed, E. & Jones, R. (eds.) Reasons for Realism (p. 21)
  6. ^ a b http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/J._J._Gibson
  7. ^ a b http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/James_Jerome_Gibson.aspx
  8. ^ https://edisk.fandm.edu/tony.chemero/papers/heft.pdf

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