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Perception and actions socio-culturally develop each other circularly

The slides and texts below were presented at the 4th  ISCAR Congress (1 October, 2014,  Sydney, Australia).

Objectives of the presentation 

To reconsider cultural learning from Gibsonian perspectives (e.g., Gibson, 1979; Reed, 1996) as mutual development of perceptual learning (learning what) and action learning (learning how), this presentation attempts to construct an ecological theory of cultural learning without any idealistic concepts. 

Theses of the presentation

Three theses will be mentioned. 

  1. Perceiving objects and events socio-culturally depends on performing socio-cultural actions to them, and vice versa. Socio-cultural perception and socio-cultural actions are simultaneously achieved. 

  2. We can only copy bodily movements of socio-cultural adept people at the beginning. We are gradually developing our actions and perception to be socio-cultural.

  3. Socio-cultural objects and events are perceived directly as objects and events in natural world. No intermediate processing nor representations are needed. 

Some examples that justify these theses will be shown. 



The first evidence is chosen from the Japanese pro-wrestling culture.

Example #1 “1, 2, 3, daaa”

The picture on the left below shows a Japanese ex-wrestler Antonio Inoki, who is performing his famous “1, 2, 3, daaa”. The picture on the right below is its original version performed before his retirement.

Ritually performed “daaa”  with a phrase “1, 2, 3” after his retirement 

Originally, “daaa” was Inoki’s shout of triumph.

Detached from the original contexts, “daaa” has been performed as a closing and opening ritual action of a big show, which first appeared on 10th February in 1990 at Tokyo Dome as part of  the closing ceremony of his match.

Since then, “(1, 2, 3) daaa” had been recognised as an Inoki’s symbolic action and come to be copied by his fans and other wrestlers. Now, “(1, 2, 3) daaa” is perceived as a socio-cultural action in the Japanese pro-wrestling culture and is performed as such by a lot of pro-wrestling fans as well as Inoki himself.

An ecological-psychological examination of  “1, 2, 3, daaa”

“(1, 2, 3) daaa” is a mere nonsense sound for ordinary people, but is perceived by pro-wrestling fans as an event with a special meaning. It is often said that fans execute a special information processing or add it some knowledge retrieved from long term memory (cognitivism view). But no concepts of intermediates as such are needed when this phenomenon is explained. The same information is picked up by ordinary people as well as fans from “daaa”, but actions which are afforded from “daaa” are different between them. When fans hear “daaa”, socio-cultural actions are afforded by it.

The intermediate processing

             for constructing special information

Different actions afforded from the same information

While only orientation behaviours such as attending to it is possibly afforded by ordinary people. 

But the diagram above is not correct enough to tell the mutual nature of perception and actions stressed in Gibsonian perspectives. The diagram should be modified as shown below. 

The same information is picked up by ordinary people as well as fans from a sound “daaa”. 

For fans, on one hand, “daaa” is perceived as a socio-cultural event and at the same time affords socio-cultural actions. 

For ordinary people, on the other hand, “daaa” is perceived as a nonsense sound and at the same time affords orientation behaviour.

What perception is achieved and what actions are possible are the two sides of the same coin.

Even pro-wrestling fans did not perceive nor perform socio-cultural “daaa” when they heard it at the first time (when they were immature in the Japanese pro-wrestling culture). 

At the beginning, they just heard the sound and only could copy Inoki or older fans who performed “daaa”, just doing similar bodily movements to them and perceiving poor meanings of it. 

But they had been developing to be more adept members in the Japanese pro-wrestling culture. Their actions were developing from ‘vocal mimicry’ to socio-culturally proper actions and finally even ‘embodiment of Inoki’. At the same time their perception were developing from ‘nonsense sound’ to ‘a socio-cultural event’.

Interactions between the immature and the adept make it possible for the former to develop socio-culturally. The adept can perceive the immature’s bodily movements are not socio-cultural enough and give some feedback to the immature. 

The immature regulate their movements to the adept’s performance. Gradually the immature’s movements develop to be socio-cultural actions. The better their actions become, the better their perception becomes. 

Conclusions from Example #1

Different affordances picked up from the same information are dependent on actions that people can perform.

Different actions performed under the same stimulation are dependent on perception that people can have.

Perception and actions develop each other. And the process is gradual and circular.

Interactions between the immature and the adept are important for the former to socio-culturally develop. 

Further instantiations of the conclusions will be shown below.

Example #2    Affordances of a “postbox”

Another example to be mentioned is ‘post box’, which is famous one discussed in Gibson’s work in 1979 whose title is  “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception”.

Cognitive psychologists often insist that special processing and knowledge are needed in order for us to perceive a postbox as a socio-cultural product .

From Gibsonian perspectives, it is socio-cultural actions (delivering something to someone) that are needed to be acquired for us to recognise a postbox as it is.

This is also an example that shows the development of perception and actions is mutual.

Mutual development of perception and actions to a postbox

While we are developing our socio-cultural actions to a postbox, affordances derived from them are changing. 

As we are learning how to act to a postbox, we are also developing to perceive what it is. 

Interactions between the immature (children) and the adept (adults) are also important in this cultural learning.

Arguing that the socio-cultural development of our actions to objects is going along with that of our perception to them, no concepts of intermediate processing nor knowledges are needed.

Informations which specify a postbox are there in environment surrounding us. We do not have to explore in our brain something else.

Next example is a toy that failed in its intention.

Example #3 The failure of “as kids like to do”

“As kids like to do” is made to prevent kids from playing with furnishing goods such as telephones, paper tissue, switches etc. by shifting their attention and actions. This successes in preventing infants, but often comes to fail when kids grow up.

A user gave her episode on a website on this toy

“My kid frequently wanted to play with furnishing goods like paper tissue, my mobile phone, and our desk phone. So I decided to buy this toy for their substitute. My kid seemed attracted and played with this toy for a while just after the purchase probably because it was novel. But finally I knew that it really never substituted for real ones. Now I gave him a real mobile of my used ones and a box which has a few sheets of paper tissue, and he preferred them and enjoyed playing with them ....,”  

(original in Japanese:

This anecdote tells that kids’ actions to furnishing goods are developing from mere bodily movements to socio-cultural actions. “As kids like to do” affords physical movements but not socio-cultural actions. The maker's and users’ failure originates from the confusion between the two kinds of affordances and actions. 

Summary and discussion

Simultaneous achievement of perception and action

From a Gibsonian perspectives, actions to objects and perception of them are the two sides of the same coin irrespectively the objects are socio-cultural or natural. 

Mutual development of learning how and learning what

Perception and actions develop each other. We learn how to do with objects and what they are at the same time. The learning process is gradual and circular or spiral.

Interpersonal learning of socio-cultural actions and perception

The socio-culturally immature develop their actions to socio-cultural objects through their mimicry of performance by the socio-cultural adept at the beginning. The adept’s responses can be different depending on how they perceive the immature’s actions (bad, good enough, or mature). The adept’s responses influences the immature’s regulation of their own actions. In this interpersonal regulative process, the immature develop their actions and at the same time their perceptions to be socio-cultural. The same process can be thought to work when cultural learning happens.


Gibson, J. J. . 1979  The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.  Houghton Mifflin.

Reed, E. S. 1996  Encountering the World : toward an ecological psychology.  Oxford University Press.

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