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Eleanor J. Gibson on Risk Perception - Dictionary of Arguments

Slater I 41
Risk perception/visual cliff/E. J. Gibson/developmental psychology: In the 1980s, Gibson reconceptualized her studies with the visual cliff (>visual cliff/Gibson) as investigations into the development of perception of “affordances” – the fit between an animal’s physical capabilities and the features of the environment that allow a particular action to be performed (Gibson, 1988(1); Gibson & Schmuckler, 1989)(2).
This reconceptualization led to a series of studies on infants’ perception of affordances for traversability (Gibson et al., 1987)(3). Now Gibson’s focus was on comparing crawling and walking infants because differences in the stability of their postures affect affordances for locomotion. Of special interest were the exploratory behaviors used to generate information for affordances. (…) in this case, the rigidity of the ground surface varied instead of the height of the drop-off. Crawling infants crossed a squishy waterbed more frequently than walking infants, but both groups went straight over rigid plywood. Walkers differentiated the two surfaces with increased visual and tactile exploration on the waterbed, whereas crawlers did not.
Gibson’s new view of the old visual cliff paradigm led to dozens of studies on infants’ perception of affordances for locomotion: over real cliffs (Kretch & Adolph, in press), gaps (Adolph, 2000(4); Adolph, Berger, & Leo, 2011(5); Zwart, Ledebt, Fong, de Vries, & Savelsbergh, 2005)(6), slopes (e.g., Adolph, 1997)(7), stairs (Ulrich, Thelen, & Niles, 1990)(8), bridges (Berger & Adolph, 2003(9); Berger, Adolph, & Kavookjian, 2010(10); Berger, Adolph, & Lobo, 2005(11); Kretch, Kung, Quon, & Adolph, 2011)(12), foam pits (Joh, 2011(13); Joh & Adolph, 2006(14)), slippery ground (Adolph, Joh, & Eppler, 2010)(15), under, over, and around barriers (Kingsnorth & Schmuckler, 2000(16); Lockman, 1984(17); Mulvey, Kubo, Chang, & Ulrich, 2011(18); Schmuckler, 1996(19).



1. Gibson, E. J. (1988). Exploratory behavior in the development of perceiving, acting, and the acquiring of knowledge. Annual Review of Psychology, 39, 1–41.
2. Gibson, E. J., & Schmuckler, M. A. (1989). Going somewhere: An ecological and experimental approach to development of mobility. Ecological Psychology, 1, 3–25.
3. 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.
4. Adolph, K. E. (2000). Specificity of learning: Why infants fall over a veritable cliff. Psychological Science, 11, 290–295.
5. Adolph, K. E., Berger, S. E., & Leo, A. J. (2011). Developmental continuity? Crawling, cruising, and walking. Developmental Science, 14, 306–318.
6. Zwart, R., Ledebt, A., Fong, B. F., de Vries, H., & Savelsbergh, G. J. P. (2005). The affordance of gap crossing in toddlers. Infant Behavior & Development, 28, 145–154.
7. Adolph, K. E. (1997). Learning in the development of infant locomotion. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 62, 3 (Serial No. 251).
8. Ulrich, B. D., Thelen, E., & Niles, D. (1990). Perceptual determinants of action: Stair-climbing choices of infants and toddlers. In J. E. Clark & J. H. Humphrey (Eds), Advances in Motor Development Research (Vol. 3, pp. 1–15). New York: AMS Publishers.
9. Berger, S. E., & Adolph, K. E. (2003). Infants use handrails as tools in a locomotor task. Developmental Psychology, 39, 594–605.
10. Berger, S. E., Adolph, K. E., & Kavookjian, A. E. (2010). Bridging the gap: Solving spatial means-ends relations in a locomotor task. Child Development, 81, 1367–1375.
11. Berger, S. E., Adolph, K. E., & Lobo, S. A. (2005). Out of the toolbox: Toddlers differentiate wobbly and wooden handrails. Child Development, 76, 1294–1307.
12. Kretch, K. S., Kung, J., Quon, J. L., & Adolph, K. E. (2011, October). Bridging the gap: Infants’ sensitivity to bridge width and drop-off height. Poster presented at the meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, Philadelphia, PA.
13. Joh, A. S. (2011). Development of learning from falling in young infants: A longitudinal study on the effects of practice, locomotor skill, and learning context. Manuscript in revision.
14. Joh, A. S., & Adolph, K. E. (2006). Learning from falling. Child Development, 77, 89–102.
15. Adolph, K. E., Joh, A. S., & Eppler, M. A. (2010). Infants’ perception of affordances of slopes under high and low friction conditions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 36, 797–811.
16. Kingsnorth, S., & Schmuckler, M. A. (2000). Walking skill versus walking experience as a predictor of barrier crossing in toddlers. Infant Behavior and Development, 23, 331–350.
17. Lockman, J. J. (1984). The development of detour ability during infancy. Child Development, 55, 482–491.
18. Mulvey, G. M., Kubo, M., Chang, C.-L., & Ulrich, B. D. (2011). New walkers with Down Syndrome use cautious but effective strategies for crossing obstacles. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82, 210–219.
19. Schmuckler, M. A. (1996). Development of visually guided locomotion: Barrier crossing by toddlers. Ecological Psychology, 8, 209–236.


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.
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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