According to Eleanor and James Gibson's differentiation theory, perceptual development reflects infants' active search for invariant features. Explain the differentiation theory using specific...

According to Eleanor and James Gibson's differentiation theory, perceptual development reflects infants' active search for invariant features. Explain the differentiation theory using specific examples. Include examples from the research on hearing, pattern perception, and intermodal perception.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Gibson's differentiation theory pertains to perceptual learning which involves improvement in both perception as a function of experience and the acquisition of knowledge as a function of changes in perception (Pick).  In other words, Eleanor Gibson held that cognitive processes such as imagining and reasoning develop in proportion to the amount of information we gather from the environment.

According to the Gibsons, perception as a function of experience involves the repeated exposure to certain things; the more that a child sees, hears, or touches these things, the more he/she can not only recognize them, but also discriminate differences in them. In like fashion, the more that the child is exposed to, the more experience and knowledge is acquired which can assist in the discrimination of objects and changes in the way these objects are perceived.

With "infant" as defined as a baby from birth to twelve months:

  • Pattern perception 

When babies are very small they focus on faces rather than objects. Therefore, the repeated experience of perception of family members leads to their recognition of parents and siblings. If a friend of one of the siblings visits, for example, then the baby will differentiate this person from a family member, and react by, perhaps, becoming fearful and cry or crawl away.

  • Hearing

Studies by Gibson have shown that infants become attuned to their native language from the age of two days. So, when they hear another language, they do not pay attention to it.

At a later age, seven to nine months, infants can hear different instruments but match the sound of a musical instrument to the instrument from which it emanates if they have repeatedly heard and seen each one separately previously.

  • Intermodal perception   

Intermodal perception involves the recognition of information from objects or events by multiple senses at the same time. An example of this intermodal perception is in Gibsons' study that showed infants as able to see the difference between soft and hard objects which they had previously had the experience of putting them in their mouths and feeling their textures.

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