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Eleanor J Gibson (December 7, 1910 - December 30, 2002) was an important American psychologist. Among her contributions to psychology, the most important are the study of perception in infants and toddlers. She is popularly known for the "visual cliff" experiment in which precocial animals, and crawling human infants, showed their ability to perceive depth by avoiding the deep side of a virtual cliff. Along with her husband J. J. Gibson, she forwarded the concept that perceptual learning takes place by differentiation.

Gibson was born Eleanor Jack in Peoria, Illinois, into a successful Presbyterian family on December 7,1910. Her parents were William A. and Isabel (Grier) Jack. She married fellow psychologist James J. Gibson on September 17, 1932. They had two children, James J. and Jean Grier.

Probably the most well known contribution of E.J. Gibson is the visual cliff. The visual cliff was developed to investigate the process of depth perception, or seeing objects in three dimensions. E.J. Gibson and Richard Walk (1960) studied infant’s depth perception by using a small cliff with a drop-off covered by glass. Gibson and Walk would then place 6-14 month old infants on the edge of the visual cliff to see if they would crawl “over the edge”. Most infants refused to crawl out on the glass signifying that they could perceive depth and that depth perception is not learned [1].

The "Visual Cliff" was a wooden table from the edge of which strong plate glass extended, Life magazine reported in 1959. Children were put on the table top and coaxed to crawl out over the glass, the magazine said. But when they got to the edge of the cliff and looked down almost all of them quickly withdrew. Even their mothers' most persuasive urgings could not get them out. Similar studies were done with animals, including rats and kittens.

The findings indicated that perception is an essentially adaptive process, or as Dr. Gibson put it, We perceive to learn, as well as learn to perceive.

Awards and honorsEdit

In 1992, Gibson was awarded the National Medal of Science. Since 1962 there has been a total of 304 recipients of this award. Only 10 psychologists, including Gibson, have received it[2]

In 1982, she was invited to Beijing to teach Chinese psychologists about recent theories and techniques of research.

External linksEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. Myers, David G. (1996). Sensation and perception. In Christine Burne, Laura Rubin, & Chris Migdol (Eds.), Exploring Psychology (pp. 117-161). (3rd ed.) New York, New York: Worth Publishers p. 141
  2. Benjafield, John G., (1996). The developmental point of view. A history of psychology (pp.235-263). Needham Heights, MA: Simon & Schuster Company. p.261

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