Tag Archives: visual cliff

New JHBS: The Visual Cliff, POW Stress, Models of Addiction, & More

The Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on the forgotten animals of the visual cliff experiment, stress research and the POW experience, the use of animal models in addiction research, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The visual cliff’s forgotten menagerie: Rats, goats, babies, and myth-making in the history of psychology,” by Elissa N. Rodkey. The abstract reads,

Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk’s famous visual cliff experiment is one of psychology’s classic studies, included in most introductory textbooks. Yet the famous version which centers on babies is actually a simplification, the result of disciplinary myth-making. In fact the visual cliff’s first subjects were rats, and a wide range of animals were tested on the cliff, including chicks, turtles, lambs, kid goats, pigs, kittens, dogs, and monkeys. The visual cliff experiment was more accurately a series of experiments, employing varying methods and a changing apparatus, modified to test different species. This paper focuses on the initial, nonhuman subjects of the visual cliff, resituating the study in its original experimental logic, connecting it to the history of comparative psychology, Gibson’s interest in comparative psychology, as well as gender-based discrimination. Recovering the visual cliff’s forgotten menagerie helps to counter the romanticization of experimentation by focusing on the role of extrascientific factors, chance, complexity, and uncertainty in the experimental process.

“Understanding the POW Experience: Stress research and the implementation of the 1955 U.S. Armed Forces code of conduct,” by Robert Genter. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHBS: The Visual Cliff, POW Stress, Models of Addiction, & More

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The Woman Behind the Visual Cliff

The July 2011 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology explores the life and work of psychologist Eleanor Gibson in its Time Capsule section. Elissa Rodkey, in “The Woman Behind the Visual Cliff,” describes the challenges Gibson encountered as a women seeking to become an experimental animal psychologist including a rebuff by Robert Yerkes: ““I have no women in my laboratory.” Later precluded from a position at Cornell University due to antinepotism rules, Gibson eventual collaborated

with Richard Walk, whose Cornell faculty status meant he had access to laboratory facilities. Together they conducted a series of experiments testing the effect of an enriched rearing environment on learning in rats. One experiment called for rats raised in the dark, and the invention of the visual cliff was the serendipitous result of Gibson’s and Walk’s attempt to get more use out of painstakingly dark-reared rats. To their surprise, the dark-reared rats avoided the glass-covered drop-off portion of the cliff, showing that they could perceive depth despite their lack of visual experience. Gibson and Walk found that a variety of species could discriminate depth by the time they could walk, and animals such as chicks and goats that walk at birth could immediately perceive depth.

Eventually, Gibson and Walk tested crawling babies on the cliff, using the presence of the babies’ mothers to motivate the infants to crawl. Their findings were published in Scientific American and covered in the popular press, including a feature in Life magazine. It quickly became one of psychology’s most famous experiments, its engaging photographs incorporated in numerous introductory textbooks.

The full piece on “The Woman Behind the Visual Cliff” can be read online here.

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