[Paleopsych] Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception (1947)

Steve Hovland shovland at mindspring.com
Thu Dec 16 02:43:11 UTC 2004

more at: http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Bruner/Value/
Jerome S. Bruner and Cecile C. Goodman[1]
Harvard University
First published in Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 42, 33-44.

Throughout the history of modern psychology, until very recent times, 
perception has been treated as though the perceiver were a passive 
recording instrument of rather complex design. One might, in most 
experiments, describe him in much the same graphical terms as one uses to 
describe the latest piece of recording apparatus obtainable from Stoelting 
or the American Optical Company. Such psychology, practiced as it were in 
vitro, has fallen short of clarifying the nature of perception in everyday 
life much as did the old nerve-muscle psychophysiology fall short of 
explaining behavior in everyday life. Both have been monumentally useful - 
in their place. The names of Weber, Fechner, Wundt, Titchener, Hecht, and 
Crozier are safely ensconced in any respectable psychological hall of fame. 
But their work, like the work of the nerve-muscle men, is only a beginning. 
For, as Professor Thurstone (35) has put it, "In these days when we insist 
so frequently on the interdependence of all aspects of personality, it 
would be difficult to maintain that any of these functions, such as 
perception, is isolated from the rest of the dynamical system that 
constitutes the person." The problem is, indeed, to understand how the 
process of perception is affected by other concurrent mental functions and 
how these functions in their turn are affected by the operation of 
perceptual processes. Given a dark room and a highly motivated subject, one 
has no difficulty in demonstrating Korte's Laws of phenomenal movement. 
Lead the subject from the dark room to the market place and then find out 
what it is he sees moving and under what conditions, and Korte's Laws, 
though still valid, describe the situation about as well as the Laws of 
Color Mixture describe one's feelings before an El Greco canvas.
The discrepancy between the dark room and the market place we have in the 
past found it convenient to dismiss by invoking various dei ex machina: 
Attention, Apperception, Unbewusster Schluss, Einstellung, Preparatory Set, 
etc. Like the vengeful and unannounced step-brother from Australia in the 
poorer murder mysteries, they turn up at the crucial juncture to do the 
dirty work. Though such constructs are useful, perception itself must 
remain the primary focus. To shift attention away from it by invoking 
poorly understood intervening variables does little service. What we must 
study before invoking such variables are the variations perception itself 
undergoes when one is hungry, in love, in pain, or solving a problem. These 
variations are as much a part of the psychology of perception as Korte's 
It is the contention of this paper that such perceptual phenomena are as 
scientifically measurable in terms of appropriate metrics as such more 
hallowed phenomena as flicker fusion, constancy, or tonal attributes. But 
let [p. 34] us pause first to construct a sketchy terminology. Let us, in 
what ensues, distinguish heuristically between two types of perceptual 
determinants. These we shall call autochthonous and behavioral. Under the 
former we group those properties of the nervous system, highly predictable, 
which account for phenomena like simple pair formation, closure, and 
contrast, or at another level, tonal masking, difference and summation 
tones, flicker fusion, paradoxical cold, and binaural beats. Given ideal 
"dark-room" conditions and no compelling distractions, the "average" 
organism responds to set physical stimuli in these relatively fixed ways. 
Autochthonous determinants, in brief, reflect directly the characteristic 
electrochemical properties of sensory end organs and nervous tissue.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list