[Paleopsych] Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception (1947)
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Thu Dec 16 02:43:11 UTC 2004
more at: http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Bruner/Value/
Jerome S. Bruner and Cecile C. Goodman
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.
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