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Ecological psychology (EP) is a term claimed by a number of schools of psychology. However, the two main ones are one on the writings of J. J. Gibson, and another on the work of Roger G. Barker, Herb Wright and associates at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. It should be noted that whereas Gibsonian psychology is always termed Ecological Psychology, the work of Barker (and his followers) is also known as Environmental Psychology. There is a considerable amount of overlap between the two schools, although the Gibsonian approach tends to be more philosophical.

Barker's work was based on his empirical work at the Midwest Field Station. He wrote later: "The Midwest Psychological Field Station was established to facilitate the study of human behavior and its environment in situ by bringing to psychological science the kind of opportunity long available to biologists: easy access to phenomena of the science unaltered by the selection and preparation that occur in laboratories." (Barker, 1968). The study of environmental units (behavior settings) grew out of this research. In his classic work "Ecological Psychology" (1968) he argued that human behaviour was radically situated: in other words, you couldn't make predictions about human behaviour unless you know what situation or context or environment the human in question was in. For example, there are certain behaviours appropriate to being in Church, attending a lecture, working in a factory etc, and the behaviour or people in these environments is more similar than the behaviour of an individual person in different environments. He has since developed these theories in a number of books and articles.

Gibson also stressed the importance of the environment. He argued that animals and humans stand in a 'systems' relation to the environment, such that, to fully explain some behaviour it was necessary to study the environment in which this behaviour took place. The aphorism: "It's not what is inside the head that is important, it's what the head is inside of", is supposed to capture that point. However, especially in his later work, Gibson concentrated more on the nature of cognition itself. He rejected 'indirect' (cognitivist) perception, in favour of 'direct realism'; and also rejected the information processing and cognitivist views of human behaviour.

Both schools emphasise 'real world' studies of behaviour as opposed to the artificial environment of the laboratory.

See also[]


Key texts – Books[]

  • Reed, E S (1996) Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology. OUP. ISBN 0195073010

Additional material – Books[]

  • Willi J (1999) Ecological Psychotherapy: Developing by Shaping the Personal Niche.Hogrefe & Huber. ISBN: 0889371709

Key texts – Papers[]

  • Shaw, R. E. Turvey, M. T Mace, W. M. (1982): Ecological psychology. The consequence of a commitment to realism. In: W. Weimer & D. Palermo (Eds.), Cognition and the symbolic processes. Vol. 2, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., pp. 159-226.

Additional material - Papers[]

External links[]

There are further resouces on Ecological psychology on these psychology websites

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