Contrasting approaches to perceiving and acting with others

Kerry L. Marsh, Michael J. Richardson, Reuben M. Baron, R. C. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

179 Citations (Scopus)


How and why the presence of a person directly affects the perception and action of another person is a phenomenon that has been approached in a limited and piecemeal fashion within psychology. This kind of diffuse strategy has failed to capture the jointness of perception and action within and between people. In contradistinction, the authors offer a perspective that retains both integrally social features (e.g., involves interaction) and yet adequately exploits the current state of knowledge regarding the ecological properties of perception–action, while at the same time drawing on aspects of dynamic systems theory. In this article the authors review the best attempts to examine how one individual affects another's perceptions and actions in the emergence of a social unit of action. Two important approaches, the individual-level and cognitive dynamics approaches, have yielded insights that derive in significant degree from principles of ecological psychology and/or dynamical systems theory. Prototypic of the individual-level approach is a focus on what can be perceived by coactors with the aim of uncovering how the dispositional qualities (affordances) of another person are informationally specified during social interaction. In contrast, the cognitive dynamics approach simulates dynamical characteristics of cognition and psychological influence with the aim of uncovering how cooperative interaction emerges out of its component parts. The authors argue that these approaches involve, respectively, insufficient mutuality and insufficient embodiment. Consequently, a social synergy perspective is discussed that approaches the problem of socially cooperative interaction at the relational, nonreductive level, using novel methods to examine how social perception and action emerge through self-organizing processes. The coupling of Gibson's ideas with those of Bernstein forms a natural basis for looking at the traditional psychological topics of perceiving, acting, and knowing as activities of ecosystems rather than isolated animals. (Shaw, Mace, & Turvey, 2001, p. xiv)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-38
Number of pages38
JournalEcological Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


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