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Eleanor J. Gibson on Fear - Dictionary of Arguments

Slater I 42
Fear/visual cliff/developmental psychology/Gibson: From the beginning, Gibson and Walk (>Visual cliff/Gibson) considered the role of fear in cliff avoidance. But Gibson did not equate avoidance with fear and she did not believe that fear accompanied perception of affordances (>Risk perception/Gibson).
On the visual cliff, animals were not afraid to approach and explore the deep side: kids, lambs, rats, kittens, and puppies peered over the edge of the centerboard, touching their noses or whiskers to the glass if they could reach it, and human infants actively explored the glass on the deep side by patting it with their hands, leaning onto it, or laying their faces on it (Walk, 1966(1); Walk & Gibson, 1961(2)). Later work confirmed infants’ approach of the deep side and visual-tactile exploration of the glass (e.g., Ueno, Uchiyama, Campos, Dahl, & Anderson, in press; Witherington, Campos, Anderson, Lejeune, & Seah, 2005(3)).
In Gibson’s view, fear of heights develops separately form perception of affordances. (Gibson 1982(4), p. 65).
However, animals did show stereotyped fear reactions when they were placed directly onto the glass on the deep side or pushed over the edge of the precipice – a situation more akin to being thrown off a cliff rather than exploring the view from the edge. Kids, lambs, kittens, and puppies froze, trembled, and backed up, holding their front limbs rigid (Gibson & Walk, 1960(5); Walk & Gibson, 1961(2)).



1. Walk, R. D. (1966). The development of depth perception in animals and human infants. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 31, 5 (Serial No. 107).
2. Walk, R. D., & Gibson, E. J. (1961). A comparative and analytical study of visual depth perception. Psychological Monographs, 75, 15 (Whole No. 519).
3. Witherington, D. C., Campos, J. J., Anderson, D. I., Lejeune, L., & Seah, E. (2005). Avoidance of heights on the visual cliff in newly walking infants. Infancy, 7, 285–298.
4. Gibson, E. J. (1982). The concept of affordances in development: The renascence of functionalism. In W. A. Collins (Ed.), The concept of development: The Minnesota symposia on child psychology (Vol. 15, pp. 55–81). NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
5. Gibson, E. J., & Walk, R. D. (1960). The “visual cliff.” Scientific American, 202, 64–71.


Karen E. Adolph and Kari S. Kretch, “Infants on the Edge. Beyond the Visual Cliff” in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Gibson, Eleanor J.
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012


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