The field and landscape of affordances: Koffka’s two environments revisited

Julian Kiverstein*, Ludger van Dijk, Erik Rietveld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
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The smooth integration of the natural sciences with everyday lived experience is an important ambition of radical embodied cognitive science. In this paper we start from Koffka’s recommendation in his Principles of Gestalt Psychology that to realize this ambition psychology should be a “science of molar behaviour”. Molar behavior refers to the purposeful behaviour of the whole organism directed at an environment that is meaningfully structured for the animal. Koffka made a sharp distinction between the “behavioural environment” and the “geographical environment”. We show how this distinction picks out the difference between the environment as perceived by an individual organism, and the shared publicly available environment. The ecological psychologist James Gibson was later critical of Koffka for inserting a private phenomenal reality in between animals and the shared environment. Gibson tried to make do with just the concept of affordances in his explanation of molar behaviour. We argue however that psychology as a science of molar behaviour will need to make appeal both to the concepts of shared publicly available affordances, and of the multiplicity of relevant affordances that invite an individual to act. A version of Koffka’s distinction between the two environments remains alive today in a distinction we have made between the field and landscape of affordances. Having distinguished the two environments, we go on to provide an account of how the two environments are related. Koffka suggested that the behavioural environment forms out of the causal interaction of the individual with a pre-existing, ready-made geographical environment. We argue that such an account of the relation between the two environments fails to do justice to the complex entanglement of the social with the material aspects of the geographical environment. To better account for this sociomaterial reality of the geographical environment, we propose a process-perspective on our distinction between the landscape and field of affordances. While the two environments can be conceptually distinguished, we argue they should also be viewed as standing in a relation of reciprocal and mutual dependence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2279-2296
Number of pages18
Issue numberSUPPL 9
Early online date20 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • Behavioural and geographical environment
  • Ecological psychology
  • Field of relevant affordances
  • Koffka
  • Landscape of affordances
  • Molar behaviour
  • Radical embodied cognitive science
  • Solicitations
  • Affordances


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