Recent Experiments in Psychology

By Leland W. Crafts; Theodore C. Schneirla et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
PROBLEMS IN THE PERCEPTION OF THE VERTICAL IN SPACE

INTRODUCTION

The subject of perception, which involves the study of the organized impressions we form of the world around us, deals typically with phenomena that every person has often experienced. Such phenomena are exemplified by our perception of the vertical and the horizontal. Usually we are able to identify these main dimensions of space with accuracy. Almost from moment to moment we make judgments about the position of surrounding objects and of our own bodies which indicate an effective mastery of the location of the true vertical in space. Nearly always we can tell readily and without deliberation whether or not a picture on the wall is straight, whether the road on which we are walking has a slope or is level, or whether we are leaning backward or forward when sitting in a rocking chair. These operations in the perception of space are so smooth-running and reliable that they occasion little notice in everyday life. It is only when "something goes wrong" that it becomes difficult to tell whether we are right side up or not. This may happen at times during an airplane ride, or in such amusement-park devices as the roller coaster or the "haunted swing."1

The capacity to perceive the vertical and the horizontal is basic to our everyday dealings with objects in the environment and to the "handling" of our own bodies. Experiments designed to discover how this kind of perception takes place may therefore cast light on pro-

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1
In the "haunted-swing situation" studied years ago by Wood in connection with problems in space perception, the subject is strapped into the seat of a chair suspended from a horizontal bar running the length of a large barrel-shaped canvas room. He believes that the "swing" is to be set in motion, but instead, the canvas room is turned forward and backward through a limited distance as though it were an oscillating drum. Under these conditions there results a most compelling illusion that the "swing" itself is being moved back and forth and that the room is stationary. ( Wood H. S. The Haunted-swing" Illusion. Psychological Review, 1895, vol. 2, pp. 277-278.)

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