AHP readers may be interested in a recent piece in the Spring issue of The American Journal of Psychology: “Parallel Development of James J. Gibson’s Ecological and Paul M. Fitts’s Information Processing Approaches to Perception and Performance,” by Robert W. Proctor and Isis Chong. Abstract:
James J. Gibson and Paul M. Fitts, two psychologists who had, and continue to have, a substantial influence on research in perception, action, and human performance, had remarkable, parallel careers with roots in the U.S. Army Air Forces Aviation Psychology program in World War II. Fitts is widely regarded as founder of the applied field of engineering psychology and the basic field of human performance, both based on a human information processing approach. Gibson founded ecological psychology, a school of thought that runs counter to the information processing approach and adopts a radical empiricist approach to perception and action in natural environments. Despite the origins of their disparate views in applied aviation psychology and each having had major impacts on the field of psychology, Gibson and Fitts seem to have had little contact with each other, and their research traditions have continued primarily along separate paths to this day. In this article, we review the arcs of Fitts’s and Gibson’s careers, emphasizing similarities and differences historically and theoretically. We end with a discussion of why their approaches differed widely, whether attempts to reconcile them can be meaningful, and the importance of experimental psychologists attending to applied research problems.