The "textbook Gibson": the assimilation of dissidence

Alan Costall, Paul Morris

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We examine how the textbooks have dealt with one of psychology’s most eminent dissidents, James Gibson (1904–1979). Our review of more than a hundred textbooks, dating from the 1950s to the present, reveals fundamental and systematic misrepresentations of Gibson. Although Gibson continues to figure in most of the textbooks, his work is routinely assimilated to theoretical positions he emphatically rejected: cue theory, stimulus-response psychology, and nativism. As Gibson’s one-time colleague, Ulric Neisser, pointed out, psychologists are especially prone to trying to understand new proposals “by mapping it on to some existing scheme,” and warned that when “an idea is really new, that strategy fails” (Neisser, 1990, p. 749). The “Textbook Gibson” is an example of such a failure, and perhaps also of the more general importance of assimilation—“shadow history”—within the actual history of psychology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalHistory of Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015


  • James Gibson
  • Ulric Neisser
  • ecological psychology
  • textbook science
  • direct perception
  • affordances


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