Laboratory Experiments in Psychology

By Joseph C. Stevens; Richard J. Herrnstein et al. | Go to book overview

8
Discrimination of Depth

INTRODUCTION

The study of depth perception has a long history among students of natural philosophy and of the visual arts. Painters came gradually to recognize and use cues to depth such as shadows and perspective. In the early eighteenth century the English philosopher Berkeley noted that depth perception might be mediated by muscle sensations evoked by the convergence of the two eyes. In the nineteenth century another type of "binocular" cue was added by the physicist Wheatstone: the disparity between the images in the two eyes.

Along with the proper recognition of the role of binocular factors came a number of attempts to measure the precision of depth discrimination, and it was soon discovered that the sensitivity of the visual system is remarkably keen, especially when binocular cues are permitted. Helmholtz, for example, reported an experiment in which he viewed three pins in a plane perpendicular to the visual axis, and measured the displacement of one of the pins necessary for detecting that it fell out of the plane.* He concluded that the "comparison between the images on the retina of the eyes can be made with the same degree of accuracy as that of the perception of the smallest

____________________
*
von H. Helmholtz Helmholtz's treatise on physiological optics (Ed. and trans. by J. P. C. Southall ) ( Rochester, N.Y.: Optical Society of America, 1924-1925). Reprinted by Dover Publications ( New York), 1962.

-42-

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