– Contributed by Adam Beckler.
Richard Walk (1920-1999) is best known for his research with the visual cliff, which he invented in collaboration with Eleanor J. Gibson. However, Walk had a curious mind and a wide range of interests that extended well beyond the visual cliff. The full scope of his work is documented in the Richard D. Walk papers, which are now open for research at the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology.
The visual cliff apparatus, developed by Walk and Gibson at Cornell University in the 1960s, was used to study depth perception in humans and animals. The visual cliff created the illusion of a cliff by connecting transparent glass to an opaque patterned surface. On one side of the apparatus, the patterned cloth is immediately below the glass, and on the other side it is several feet below the glass. Walk’s experiments studied depth perception in human infants and a variety of animal species by examining the factors that determined whether or not the subject would cross the threshold of the “cliff.”
Interested in all kinds of visual perception, Walk studied how humans perceived emotion in body language. He conducted experiments in which the subjects would try to identify emotions based on body language alone.
Walk, an Army veteran, also studied fear and anxiety in Army paratroopers during test jumps. Not content to take a hands-off approach to his research, Walk himself performed a test jump in order to fully understand the process.
The Richard D. Walk papers contain research and writing on a wide variety of subjects, including depth perception, art perception, emotion perception, fear and anxiety in paratroopers and athletes before competition, as well as experiments in wine tasting. The papers also document Walk’s time as a professor and student mentor, his published works, and his correspondence with other psychologists. Search the finding aid for more information.