Watch Out For The Visual Cliff

By: Josephine & Anna

Watch Out For The Visual Cliff!

Title of ResearchWatch Out for the Visual Cliff!
Date of Study1960
Name of ResearcherGibson, E.J., & Walk, R.D.
Theoretical PropositionsGibson and Walk proposed that the characteristic of depth perception is something that comes naturally and is part of our 'original biological equipment' opposing to the idea that depth perception comes from experience. They tried to prove their point by making a visual cliff, that would tell them the stage of development in which an animal or a person is able to respond of depth and height.
MethodA visual cliff was made for this experiment. This was a table about four feet high with a top made from a piece of thick, clear glass. There was both a shallow side and a deep side. On the shallow side there was a surface with a red-and-white checkered pattern. Underneath the table and glass on the deep side, (the other half), there is the same pattern as the shallow side. This gives the appearance of a 'cliff' from the shallow end of the table.
36 babies were used in this experiment. They were between the ages of 6 and 14 months. The mothers of these babies also participated. The experiment took place by the baby being placed on the center of the visual cliff, then being called by their mothers first from the deep side, then from the shallow side.
Results There were many different results to this experiment. The babies that participated in this experiment showed different reactions towards the visual cliff. 27 infants crawled across the glass without hesitation when their mothers called them. 3 of the infants crawled along with much hesitation to their mothers on the deep side. Even thought they hesitated, the failed to show depth perception. Other babies crawled away and cried in frustration because they did not know what to do. Some children were able to express depth perception because they looked down the class in the deep side, and patted the glass. Even though the babies confirmed that the deep side had a solid surface, they refused to cross over.
The visual cliff was also used on animals. Unlike the infants, all baby animals were able to show a perfect depth perception except for rats. This eventually showed what idea Gibson and Walk had about the originality of depth perception.
Discussion and Related Research The results of this experiment showed the Gibson and Walk's theory was highly related to the evolutionary theory. Gibson and Walk thought that all species of animals need to develop the ability to perceive depth by the time they are able to move about individually. In humans, this stage comes about when the infant is 6 months old. Baby animals were able to go through the visual cliff experiment without any flaws because their individual movement is nearly immediate after they are born. The rat was an exception because the rat does not need depth perception in order to survive. Since it is nocturnal, it uses its nose and whiskers.

An example of related research is by Sorce, Emde, Campos, and Klinnert (1985). In this experiments, they used 1-year old infants. They changed the deep side and shallow side so that the difference did not make a deep or shallow side, it was in between. The mothers who also participated were instructed to change the expressions on their faces. When the baby stopped in front of the 'cliff', and the mother had an expression of fear on her face, the baby would not move.
Criticisms The biggest criticism that the researchers received about this research is the question on whether depth perception is something that is innate in humans. When another experiment was held using infants of 2 to 5 months, the experiment showed that infants of the certain age did not know about the fear of the 'cliff' and depth perception. These younger infants would learn the 'fear' of it later, and this clashed with Gibson and Walk's theory.
Recent ApplicationsGibson's and Walk's experiment is still a major influence on human development, emotions, perception, and mental health. Recently, a research by Adolph and Eppler cited that toddlers gets engage in exploratory behaviors, such as mud, stones, or beach sand. Due to this, the two researchers contend that this might be the reason to how the human visual system learns about the effect of the surfaces. With this, we eventually stop falling down so much. Another study looked at the possibilities to help the disabled children learn to deal safely with the environment. According to Strickland, he stated that through virtual reality, it is possible to cure these children from physical injury.
ConclusionThe question of whether perceptual abilities are innate or learned is still being researched and debated. Just like varies studies have indicated, depth perception is innate and fear of falling and avoidance is through experience. But, the experiment continues to be debated.
Other related Terms and Conce
External Websites
Visual Overview of Method


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