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Watch out for the Visual Cliff!
Transcript of Watch out for the Visual Cliff!
Experimental psychologists wanted to test depth perception in humans. In particular, is depth perception part of our nature or a developed skill? What stage in development can a person or animal respond effectively to the stimuli of depth and height? Do animals learn depth perception at different times?
Summary of results
Children, chicks, rats, turtles, lambs, baby goats (kids), pigs, kittens, and puppies tested shallow and deep sided visual cliff. Of the children, 27 out of the 36 crossed the shallow side to there mother. On the deep side, only three children crossed the cliff and with great hesitation. Most of the children crawled away from the visual cliff or cried because they believed they couldn't reach their mothers. Many of the children looked down at the deep side and backed away or tapped the glass to test the deep side. Baby chicks never attempted to walk on the deep side. The lambs and kids all stayed on the shallow side, and when one kid was placed on the deep side, it froze and jumped away when the researcher pushed it to the shallow side. The rats showed no preference, most likely because they relied on touching the glass over vision. The kittens rely on both vision and touch, and the vision prevailed in this situation as the kittens stayed on the shallow side. Turtles appeared to have the worst depth perception, an instinct less vital for for aquatic animals.
Gibson and Walk determined that unlike the other animals, which showed immediate depth perception and coordination, human infants had depth perception but don't have great motor skills. Many of the children went on the deep side in order to turn to the shallow side, explaining why children fall so often.
Since the children were at least 6 months old, the experiment did not determine whether human's depth perception is from nature or nurture.
In 1985, 1-year-olds were put on a visual cliff appearing about 30 inches deep. Their mothers were waiting on the other side of the drop off. Some of the mothers were instructed to show fear on their face, while the other mothers were instructed to look happy. The infants with the fearful mothers refused to crawl across while the reassured infants checked the cliff and crawled to their mothers. The nonverbal communication exhibited in this experiment is called social referencing.
I believed children developed depth perception at 2 years or later. The juries still out for the nature vs. nurture argument, but it appears that depth perception develops at an earlier age. I also learned about social referencing through later applications of this experiment.