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Chas Wakeman

1/20/2015
Psychology 111
Ms. Donegan

Watch Out For the Visual Cliff

Are we naturally born with the sense of depth perception, or is it something we as


humans develop over time from learning experiences such as falling from high places? Both
hypothesis seem logical and could be possible . Researchers Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk
sought to test the theory that depth perception is a natural sense we are born with.
The apparatus Gibson and Walk used to collect their data seemed to be a simple
innovation and was created using a table that sat about 4 feet high with a top made of thick clear
glass. Under half of the glass on the table was a solid surface with red and white checker pattern ,
under the other half was the same pattern but it was at floor level creating the appearance of a
drop off. In the experiment the subjects used were 36 infants ages 6-14 months and their
mothers. Each infant was set in the middle of the table on the visual cliff and were called by
their mothers. Various animals were also tested including chicks , turtles, rats, lambs, and baby
goats, pigs, kittens and puppies. The results of the experiments were rather interesting , when
called from the shallow side of the table nine children refused to move at all and the twentyseven other children crawled off the board and over the glass when called by their mothers only
three children hesitated. On the other hand when the mothers moved to the deep side of the
experiment, the reaction of the infants reacted in a totally different way.

Chas Wakeman
1/20/2015
Psychology 111
Ms. Donegan

The infants either crawled away from the mother calling to them or stayed and cried
desperately because they couldnt reach the mother. Judging by the results of the experiment, is
it valid to say that humans are naturally born with the ability to detect depth perception? Its hard
to say for sure because the infants Gibson and Walk tested had 6 months life experience so far .
This is where testing the baby animals became a huge part of the study . Some of the animals
tested had the ability to move freely shortly after birth such as chicks , lambs, and rats. The
behavior of the chicks was very predictable, they never made an error by stepping off the deep
side. Same goes for the lambs, they were very skeptical and always made no errors whatsoever .
This made the researchers aware that visual sense was in complete control and that the animals
ability to feel the solidity of the glass on the deep side had no effect on the response . (Hock Pg.
31) The rats however had a different response to the visual cliff and they didnt show any signs
of preference for the shallow side of the table . The explanation for this that Gibson and walk
came up with is rats tend to be more nocturnal animals and have poor eyesight so they typically
use their whiskers to help them move around. As a result they couldnt determine a shallow side
and a deep side it all seemed solid to them because of their whiskers.
According to the text, Psychology by Saundra K. Ciccarelli, death perception is the
capability to see the world in three dimensions. (Ciccarelli 2009 Pg. 114) Also, the text states
that humans tend to most likely develop depth perception early in life or even as soon as birth.
These assumptions are both made in the reading as well as the text. I feel the findings of Gibson
and Walks research can help us better understand the human sensation and perception and the
way we view different things. It opens the door to many other researchers who want to try and

Chas Wakeman
1/20/2015
Psychology 111
Ms. Donegan

test this theory and see if they can come up with a different conclusion. In conclusion this
research find helped extend my knowledge about the way humans perceive depth perception and
makes me question still if its a sense we are born with or develop over time? This study informs
me that many different animals and humans have a relation when it comes to determining depth
perception. Overall I thought this article was extremely interesting and makes you question the
different theories that researchers come up with. Its interesting to see every ones different
opinions and how they believe things like depth perception really work.

Work Cited
Gibson, E.J., & Walk, R.D. (1960). The visual cliff. Scientific American, 202(4), 67-71.
Ciccarelli, S.A. & Noland, J.W. (2009) Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ