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Eleanor J. Gibson (December 7, 1910 – December 30, 2002) was an 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.
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.
In 1982, she was invited to Beijing to teach Chinese psychologists about recent theories and techniques of research.
She was married to psychologist J J Gibson.
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