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visual cliff


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An experimental apparatus for studying depth perception in infants, introduced by the US psychologists Eleanor J(ack) Gibson (1910–2002) and Richard D(avid) Walk (1920–1999) and published in the journals Science in 1957 and Scientific American in 1960, consisting of a narrow wooden board laid across the middle of a sheet of heavy glass, with a chequered material immediately beneath the glass on one side of the board and several feet below it on the other side. Although the glass surface is palpably flat and solid on both sides, the chequered pattern provides a texture gradient indicating a deep cliff on one side of the central board, and an infant as young as 6 months who is placed on the board will happily crawl across the glass to its mother on the shallow side but will almost invariably refuse to cross the deep side in spite of strong coaxing and tactile evidence that the glass provides a solid surface. The effect has also been found in several other species, such as kittens that have just learned to walk at about 4 weeks of age and that never cross the visual cliff, and chicks less than a day old that also never cross the cliff, suggesting that depth perception is innate rather than learned by experience.

Subjects: Psychology.


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