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Eleanor J. Gibson on Visual Cliff - Dictionary of Arguments

Slater I 45
Visual Cliff/E. J. Gibson: (>Visual cliff/psychological theories): Gibson and Walk quickly realized that human infants would only leave the centerboard in the context of a social situation. In addition to visual information for depth, infants use social information from their mothers (Walk & Gibson 1961)(1). Infants also direct social communications to their mothers by holding out their arms toward them, pointing at the surface and looking at them, and vocalizing with apparent intent to communicate (Gibson et al., 1987)(2). In the early studies, mothers were instructed to stand at each side for two minutes twirling a pinwheel and silently smiling, but when infants refused to cross, they sometimes improvised by banging on the surface of the deep side and proffering cigarette boxes, lipsticks, purses, and crumpled bits of paper (Walk & Gibson, 1961)(1).
Slater I 46
Critique/VsGibson/VsWalk/VsVisual Cliff: the glass causes a variety of problems (recognized by Gibson and Walk), especially for testing human infants. In particular, the glass makes it difficult to assess the role of locomotor experience in adaptive responding.
Slater I 48
Infants inadvertently allow some or all of their body onto the deep side while trying to avoid it; they venture part way onto the glass toward their mothers and then retreat; and they lean their weight onto the safety glass while trying to explore it (Walk & Gibson, 1961)(1). On a real cliff, they would have fallen.
VsVisual Cliff/VsGibson/VsWalk: Although the visual cliff was well designed for studying dark-reared rats upon their first exposure to light, it has proven ill suited for studying effects of locomotor experience on the development of fear of heights and perception of affordances in human infants. (…) researchers found discrepant outcomes for heart rate (acceleration, deceleration, and no change) and affect (negative, positive, and neutral) during placement on the deep side and in infants who avoided the deep side. (Campos et al. 1970(3); Schwartz, Campos, & Basel, 1973(4); Richards & Rader, 1983(5); Campos, Bertenthal, & Kermonian, 1992(6)).
Slater I 49
GibsonVsVs: Thesis: the real questions do not concern exactly what transfers as infants acquire locomotor experience, or even the perceptual information that specifies affordances (>risk perception/Gibson), but how flexibility of behavior is achieved (Gibson, 1997)(7).



1. Walk, R. D., & Gibson, E. J. (1961). A comparative and analytical study of visual depth perception. Psychological Monographs, 75, 15 (Whole No. 519).
2. Gibson, E. J., Riccio, G., Schmuckler, M. A., Stoffregen, T. A., Rosenberg, D., & Taormina, J. (1987). Detection of the traversability of surfaces by crawling and walking infants. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 13, 533–544.
3. Campos, J. J., Langer, A., & Krowitz, A. (1970). Cardiac responses on the visual cliff in prelocomotor human infants. Science, 170, 196–197.
4. Schwartz, A. N., Campos, J. J., & Baisel, E. J. (1973). The visual cliff: Cardiac and behavioral responses on the deep and shallow sides at five and nine months of age. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 15, 86–99.
5. Richards, J. E., & Rader, N. (1983). Affective, behavioral, and avoidance responses on the visual cliff: Effects of crawling onset age, crawling experience, and testing age. Psychophysiology, 20, 633–642.
6. Campos, J. J., Bertenthal, B. I., & Kermoian, R. (1992). Early experience and emotional development: The emergence of wariness of heights. Psychological Science, 3, 61–64.
7. Gibson, E. J. (1997). Discovering the affordances of surfaces of support. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 62, 3 (Serial No. 251), 159–162.



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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