Eleanor Gibson

By: Lourdes Costanzo


Eleanor Jack Gibson was born in Peoria, Illinois, into a middle class family. Eleanor's father sold hardware for a living as the mother was a stay at home parent. Eleanor's mother Isabel, was a graduate from Smith College, where Eleanor after high school, continued the tradition and attended Smith College as well. Eleanor had a passion for Psychology and enjoyed experimental type classes. During Eleanor's Junior year of college, she had met a young Professor James Gibson, who taught experimental psychology. This intrigued Eleanor, and she then immediately changed her class schedule to become apart of experimental psychology class. James Gibson later on encouraged Eleanor to pursue her passion in psychology. After graduation Eleanor stayed on for graduate studies under James' supervision. Then from Smith, she attended Yale for her Ph.D. after taking a year of teaching off at Smith. In 1932 while Eleanor was almost through with getting her masters, she married James Gibson. After James got offered a position at Cornell, Eleanor then became a research associate at Cornell.

Eleanor's Field in Psychology

Psychological Theory:

In 1960 Eleanor became best known for her experiment called the "Visual Cliff". Eleanor partnered with Richard Walk, a Cornell professor. Their researched involved rats and their want in getting more use out of these animals. The visual cliff was a sheet of glass with patterned paper underneath. Directly under the glass on the near side was the paper, and several feet beneath the glass was on the far side of the glass. Their expectation in this experiment was that the rats would walk on the near and far sides, but unfortunately this experiment did not work. Both researchers then used the same method, but instead of rats they used babies. Although mothers were there to encourage the babies, only 3 babies out of 30 crawled onto the deep side of the glass https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WvtEFJGp-8 . Eleanor's main focus then became perceptual learning, where she researched for the next twelve years and later on published Principles of Perceptual Learning and Development. This book received a Century Award for that year and later on became a "citation classic".

Eleanor Gibson - development and affordances - ICPA 1999