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The visual cliff is a piece of experimental apparatus designed to evaluate depth perception.

It consists of a box with a heavy glass top and a narow board across the centre. On one side of the board there appears to be a large drop {the visual cliff), while on the other it appears shallower.

The subject (most commonly an infant) is placed over the cliff and if the move quickly to the shallower end this is taken as evidence that they can perceive depth.

Most species that are active at birth show an immediate avoidance of the cliff. Human infants cannot move away from the cliff for some months. But newborns placed over the cliff show no change in heart rate, which signals that they do not perceive the drop. Two-month old infants placed over the deep side showed a slowed heart rate, which indicated they perceived the drop, but instead of fearing it, were interested. Infants of crawling age (6 to 7 months) would not crawl across the deep side to reach their mothers. This was an indication that not only did they perceive the drop, but they feared it.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Gibson, E.J. and Walk, R.D. (1960) The visual cliff, Scientific American 202: 64-7 1
  • Schwartz, A. Campos, J. and Baisel, E. (1973) The visual cliff: cardiac and behavioural correlates on the deep and shallow sides at five and nine months of age, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 15: 86-99.
  • Campos, J. J., Langer, A., & Krowitz, A. (1970). Cardiac responses on the visual cliff in prelocomotor human infants. Science, 170, 196-197.
  • Fox, R., Aslin, R. N., Shea, S. L., & Dumais, S. T. (1980). Stereopsis in human infants. Science, 207, 323-324.
  • Gibson, E. J., & Walk, R. D. (1960). The "visual cliff." Scientific American, 202, 64-71.
  • Richards, J. E., & Rader, N. (1981). Crawling-onset age predicts visual cliff avoidance in infants. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 7, 382-387.

Richards. J. E. and Rader, N. (1983) Affective, behavioral, and avoidance responses on the visual cliff: Effect of crawling onset age, crawling experience, and testing age, Psychophysiology, 20, 633-42.

  • Yonas, A., & Granrud, C. E. (1985). Development of visual space perception in young infants. In J. Mehler & R. Fox (Eds.), Neonate Cognition (pp. 45-68). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.


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