Affordance Theory (Gibson)

Summary: Affordance theory states that the world is perceived not only in terms of object shapes and spatial relationships but also in terms of object possibilities for action (affordances) — perception drives action.

Originators: J. J. Gibson (1904-1979)

Keywords: Affordances, direct perception, ecological

Affordance Theory (J. J. Gibson)

American psychologist James Jerome Gibson was influential in changing the way we consider visual perception. According to his theory, perception of the environment inevitably leads to some course of action. Affordances, or clues in the environment that indicate possibilities for action, are perceived in a direct, immediate way with no sensory processing. Examples include: buttons for pushing, knobs for turning, handles for pulling, levers for sliding, etc.

Based upon Gestalt theories, Affordance Theory has various implications for design, human-computer interaction, ergonomics, visualization, etc. Some believe that good design makes affordances explicit.

For more information, see:

  • Gibson, J.J. (1977). The theory of affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (eds.), Perceiving, Acting and Knowing. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Gibson, J.J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Norman, D. (1988). The Psychology of Everyday Things.  New York, Basic Books, pp. 87-92.