Hierarchical nesting of affordances in a tool use task

Jeffrey B. Wagman, Sarah E. Caputo, Thomas A. Stoffregen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


In studying the perception of affordances, researchers have typically identified a single affordance anddesigned experiments to evaluate the perception of that affordance. Yet in daily life, multiple affordancesalways exist. One consequence of this is that there may be higher order, means-ends relations betweendifferent affordances. In 4 experiments, we created situations in which lower order, subordinateaffordances could affect the realization of higher order, superordinate affordances, and we asked whetherparticipants were sensitive to these hierarchical, nested relations. Participants wielded tools that varied inlength, mass, and mass distribution. In Experiments 1 and 2, we asked them to evaluate these tools interms of their suitability for executing specific interactions with target objects (striking vs. poking) thatwere positioned at different distances. In Experiments 3 and 4, we asked participants to select rods andmasses and then to assemble them into tools that could be used to execute specific interactions with targetobjects at different distances. The results were compatible with the hypothesis that participants weresimultaneously sensitive to affordances for tool assembly and affordances for tool use. We argue that thenesting of affordances is characteristic of many situations in daily life and that, consequently, sensitivityto hierarchical, means-ends relations among affordances may be an essential characteristic of perceptuallyguided action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1627-1642
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Affordance
  • Perception-action
  • Tool making
  • Tool use
  • Wielding


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