Pretend play with objects: an ecological approach

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 21 (5):1043-1068 (2022)
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The ecological approach to object pretend play, developed from the ecological perspective, suggests an action- and affordance based perspective to account for pretend object play. Theoretical, as well as empirical reasons, support the view that children in pretense incorporate objects into their play in a resourceful and functionally appropriate way based on the perception of affordances. Therefore, in pretense children are not distorting reality but rather, they are perceiving and acting upon action possibilities. In this paper, we argue for the viability of an ecological theoretical framework to pretend object play which has been traditionally understood as a representational and metarepresentational ability. We discuss the origins and basic assumptions of the ecological approach to pretense. We layout details by presenting a qualitative analysis of a pretend play episode and discuss the results of an experimental study inspired by the ecological assumptions. We discuss pretend object play in the context of ecological work on tool use. We address the relationship between the enactive and the ecological approaches to pretend play, pointing out similarities as well as differences. We conclude that ecological and enactive approaches have shown that it is possible to challenge accepted interpretations and seek explanatory frameworks that could move the field in new directions.

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