What is an affordance? 40 years later
About 40 years ago, James J. Gibson coined the term “affordance” to describe the action possibilities offered to an animal by the environment with reference to the animal's action capabilities. Since then, this notion has acquired a multitude of meanings, generating confusion in the literature. Here, we offer a clear operationalization of the concept of affordances and related concepts in the field of tool use. Our operationalization is organized around the distinction between the physical (what is objectively observable) and neurocognitive (what is subjectively experienced) levels. This leads us to propose that motor control (dorso-dorsal system), mechanical knowledge (ventro-dorsal system) and function knowledge (ventral system) could be neurocognitive systems respectively involved in the perception of affordances, the understanding of mechanical actions and the storage of contextual relationships (three action-system model; 3AS). We end by turning to two key issues that can be addressed within 3AS. These issues concern the link between affordances and tool incorporation, and the constraints posed by affordances for tool use.