Brunswik did not use the term "ecological validity" to refer to the problem of generalization of results from laboratory experiments, He used the term "ecological validity" to refer to the degree of relation between distal variable and cue. He had to this term -- and Brunswik did invent it -- because both the perception and learning psychologists of the 30's, 40's and 50's almost without exception designed their experiments so that there was always a perfectrelation between cue and distal variable, or cue and reward. (There were few exceptions, see Hammond, 1966). Because he wanted to broaden the horizons of the perception and learning psychologists to include the idea of a probabilistic environment, however, he needed a term to express the between cue and distal variable or reward, and thus break up the research design that always employed a rigid, one-to-one relationship between cue and distal variable or cue and reward. And "ecological validity" is the term he chose, and the one that Brunswikians have been using ever since for that purpose and that purpose alone. It does refer to the degree to which the conditions of an experiment some set of conditions toward the generalization is intended, as Koehler and so many others have come to believe. What Koehler apparently wants when he says that "A more ecologically valid research program is called for" is a research program which is built on experimental designs that -- somehow -- some broader set of conditions than those ordinarily used. Of the 48 authors only Funder has mentioned the confused relation between "representativeness" and "ecological validity" (p.23).
Those who know Brunswikian research and theory will wonder what Koehler could possibly mean by his suggested remedy to employ "A more ecologically valid research program." They know that "ecological validity "refers to the degree of relation between cue and distal variable., and that it does not refer to, has nothing to do with, the representative design of an experiment. They will also be puzzled by Koehler's call for the "development of a prescriptive theory in rich, realistic decision environments." How , they will wonder, can a theory be developed in a "decision environment" of any kind? All of this language indicates just how inept psychological research efforts can become. Without any theory of environments, they must take refuge in referring to a concept they do not understand, or one that is absurd, namely "the real world." The 46 references in the Koehler article to "ecological validity" -- nearly all based on a misunderstanding -- indicate a scientific discipline adrift and searching for a method to call its own, and failing to see what has been offered to it for almost half a century.
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It should be plain that there is no connection between the legitimate usage of the term ecological validity and the problem of generalizing results from conditions used in experiments to other conditions of interest. But the repeated misuse of this term --not only in the commentaries on Koehler's article but in a wide variety of research contexts -- makes it clear that psychology has a serious -- and perennial -- problem, namely, how should the results from psychological experiments be interpreted?
As a behavioral ecologist, I have been trained to view non-human animals as behaving in ways that don’t necessarily involve any conscious thinking and that their decisions have been simply genetically programmed through the course of natural or sexual selection. But in the course of watching elephants, I have always had a sense that they often do think about what they are doing, the choices they have, and the decisions that they are making. For example, when a young musth male is threatened by a high-ranking musth male, his usual response is to drop out of musth immediately. He lowers his head, and urine dribbling can cease in a matter of seconds. Many biologists would explain this phenomenon simply by arguing that males who behave in manner X live to produce more surviving offspring than males who behave in manner Y, and thus the trait for behaving in manner X is passed on to future generations. Thus, male elephants today automatically behave the way they do because they have been programmed through the successful behavior of their ancestors to do so.
Bronfenbrenner (1977), in his presidential address to the members of the Division of Personality and Social Psychology in 1974, also confuses the concept of ecological validity with generalization and representative design. He begins his critique of current and past psychological research by observing that "the emphasis on rigor has led to experiments that are elegantly designed but often limited in scope. . . . Many of these experiments involve situations that are unfamiliar, artificial, and short-lived and that call for unusual behaviors that are difficult to (italics ours) to other settings" (p. 513). Having expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of representativeness of past and current research design which makes it difficult to generalize laboratory findings to non-laboratory situations, Bronfenbrenner turns to the concept of ecological validity (p. 515) and states that "although this term has, as yet, no accepted definition" (thus joining with Neisser and Jenkins in ignoring three decades of empirical research and a substantial body of psychological theory) he then proceeds to the established definition of ecological validity by saying that "one can infer from discussions of the topic a common underlying conception: An investigation is ecologically valid if it is carried out in a naturalistic setting and involves objects and activities from everyday life." Finding his own new definition not only "too simplistic" and "scientifically unsound," "as it is currently used" (no reference), he also finds it to have "no logical relation to the classical definition of validity--namely, the extent to which a research procedure measures what it is supposed to measure." This statement, even in its idiosyncratic form, is simply false. In the articles written previous to 1974, the concept of ecological validity was consistently used within the classical definition of validity, as it should be. Indeed, in his Table 2, on p. 30, Brunswik (1956) not only defines ecological validity in test measurement terms, but defines the ecological of cues in test measurement terms also, thus preserving the kind of theoretical coherence any science requires if it is to be cumulative.
The reader will have noted that Koehler makes a number of cogent criticisms of the broad conclusions that have been drawn about the "base rate fallacy" ("we have been oversold on the base rate fallacy in probabilistic judgment") and will have also noted that he emphasizes the need for a "more ecologically valid" research program in order to the "oversold" condition of the base rate fallacy. This is a remarkable statement in that Koehler reports exactly what Brunswikians have come to expect from psychological experiments, namely, overgeneralization of results from experiments designed without regard to a theory of the environment, or at a minimum, a statement of the conditions to which the results are intended to apply. Curiously, however, at the same time Koehler refers -- altogether inappropriately -- to "A more ecologically valid research program" when what he really means is "representative design." It is the general awkwardness of this well-intentioned effort that defines the current state of methodology in psychology today, and lends support to the worries I expressed in my rejected article in 1978. To put it briefly, Koehler's article demonstrates two circumstances: 1) there is a growing visibility of the limitations of traditional laboratory methods, and 2) attempts to remedy matters are being made through the misuse of a Brunswikian concept. As a result, the effort is being terribly bungled.
Unfortunately, however, we find that since 1974 the term ecological validity has been used in a number of very different ways by different authors who do not recognize either Brunswik's use of the term or anyone else's use of it. Thus, Jenkins (1974) talks about the "ecologically valid of everyday life." Bronfenbrenner (1977) refers to the ecological validity of as do Berman and Kenny (1976), as well as Graham (1977) who, after mistakenly attributing the concept to Orne (1970) (who mistakenly refers to "Egon Brunswik's concept of the ecological validity of research" [p. 259]) defines this term as "the extent to which the setting in which research takes place is capable of producing results that are valid." Neisser (1976) on the other hand, refers to the ecological validity of And a number of authors (Christensen, 1977; Eaton and Clore, 1975; Frodi, 1974; Greenwald, 1976; Orne, 1970; Parke, 1976; Silverstein and Strang, 1976) refer to the ecological validity of .