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Babies in go-carts. For science!

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Photo: flickr/Lourdes CristinaUnfortunately, this paper isn't about babies playing Mario Kart...but it's close! The authors were curious about when during development the "fear of heights" kicks in. So they put babies through a series of experiments, some of which involved the babies driving a "powered mobility device" (i.e., baby go-cart) or holding babies over a "visual cliff". The result? Fear of heights begins right around the time that babies become more mobile, indicating that the development of "proprioception" -- or the perception of the position of the body and self-movement -- is key to the development of this very common phobia.The Epigenesis of Wariness of Heights. "Human infants with little or no crawling experience surprisingly show no wariness of heights, but such wariness becomes exceptionally strong over the life span. Neither depth perception nor falling experiences explain this extraordinary developmental shift; however, something about locomotor experience does. The crucial component of locomotor experience in this emotional change is developments in visual proprioception-the optically based perception of self-movement. Precrawling infants randomly assigned to drive a powered mobility device showed significantly greater visual proprioception, and significantly greater wariness of heights, than did controls. More important, visual proprioception mediated the relation between wariness of heights and locomotor experience. In a separate study, crawling infants' visual proprioception predicted whether they would descend onto the deep side of a visual cliff, a finding that confirms the importance of visual proprioception in the development of wariness of heights." Bonus figure from the main text:

Fig. 1. Apparatus and procedure used in the crossing paradigm (Study 1) and the lowering paradigm (Study 2). The powered mobility device and the moving room are shown in the upper left panel and upper right panel, respectively. The lower left panel shows the visual cliff as used in the crossing paradigm. The lower right panel illustrates the lowering paradigm.

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