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Depth Cues Psychology

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Depth Cues Psychology

Depth perception refers to the ability to see the world in 3D and judge how far away/close objects are from and to us. This judgement is very important for navigating everyday life. How we move from one point to another relies quite heavily on our ability to perceive depth, and even picking up an object such as your pencil relies on the ability to judge depth.

For example, if we were crossing the road and weren't able to judge how far away a car is, it would be a bit of a disaster.

There are two kinds of depth cues:

  1. Monocular depth cues
  2. Binocular depth cues

Monocular Depth Cues Definition Psychology

Monocular depth cues in psychology can be defined as:

Monocular depth cues: information about depth that can be judged using only one eye. Monocular depth cues can be used in pictures, so a lot of monocular depth cues are used in art to give viewers a sense of depth.

Binocular Depth Cues Definition Psychology

Binocular depth cues in psychology can be defined as:

Binocular depth cues: information about depth that uses both eyes to see and understand 3D space. This is a lot easier for our brains than monocular depth cues.

The difference between monocular and binocular depth cues is that monocular depth cues use one eye to judge depth, and binocular depth cues use both eyes to perceive depth.

Types of Monocular Depth Cues

There are four monocular depth cues you will need to know for GCSE psychology. These are:

  1. Height in plane
  2. Relative size
  3. Occlusion
  4. Linear perspective.

Height in plane

This is when objects that are placed higher up appear or would be interpreted as being further away. Have a look at the monocular depth cues example below, note that the house that is placed higher would be interpreted as being further away from us, and the house lower down would be seen as being closer to us.

Monocular depth cues [+] height in plane [+] StudySmarterExample of height in plane, Erika Hae, StudySmarter Originals

Relative size

If there are two objects that are the same size (e.g., two trees of the same size) the object that is closer will look larger. Have a look at the monocular depth cues example below, tree number 1 seems closer because it is larger, and tree number 2 seems further away because it is smaller.

Monocular depth cues [+] relative size [+] StudySmarterExample of relative size, Erika Hae, StudySmarter Originals

Occlusion

This is when one object partially hides another object. The object in front that is overlapping the other is perceived to be closer than the one that is being partially hidden. Have a look at the monocular depth cues example below, the rectangle appears closer as it is overlapping and partially hiding the triangle.

monocular depth cues [+] occlusion [+] StudySmarterExample of occlusion, Erika Hae, StudySmarter Originals

Linear perspective

This is when two parallel lines come together at some point in the horizon; the closer together the two lines are the further away they seem. A common example is a road that appears to converge in the distance. The closer the parallel lines appear to get, the further away it seems.

monocular depth cues [+] linear perspective [+] StudySmarterA road that appears to converge in the distance, pixabay.com

Types of binocular depth cues

There are two types of binocular depth cues, these are:

  1. Convergence
  2. Retinal disparity.

Convergence

In order to present images of what we see onto the retinas (the layer of tissue at the back of the eyes that sense light and transports images to the brain), the two eyes must rotate inwards toward each other. The closer an object is, the more the eyes must rotate.

The brain uses this information (amount of rotation) as a cue to construe how far away an object is, by detecting muscle differences the convergence causes in our eyes, and analysing that information to decide the depth. It's a feedback tool, in a sense.

A binocular depth cues example: if you were to hold a marble in front of your face and move it closer to your face, eventually, your eyes would begin to cross. Your brain would then be able to tell how close the object was to your face by detecting how much your eyes were 'crossing', using the muscles.

Crosseyed Binocular Depth Cues StudySmarterA women crossing her eyes, freepik.com/wayhomestudio

Retinal disparity

When we see something, slightly different images of what we see are sent to each retina (as our eyes are apart so each eye sees things from a slightly different angle). However, we don't view the world as a series of two images. This is because the brain processes the degree of difference or disparity between the two images and assembles one image for us that has depth, height, and width.

The disparity between the two images allows the brain to calculate how far away an object is. An object that's close has a large disparity. An object that's far away has a small disparity.

A test you can do that also brings home the concept of large and small disparity is a test with your thumb. Give yourself a thumbs up (yay) and then extend your arm so the thumbs up is far away from you. Close one eye and then the other so you're only looking at your thumb with the left eye, then the right, then the left, etc. You'll notice that your thumb moves back and forth a little bit (your brain thinks the thumb isn't moving much so it must be far away, i.e., small disparity).

Now put your thumb super close to you (but not so close it's blurry) and do the same thing, closing one eye and then the other. You'll notice that your thumb moves back and forth a lot (your brain thinks the thumb is moving a lot then the thumb must be closer to you i.e., large disparity).

Animals that have a larger separation between the eyes, such as hammerhead sharks, have much greater depth perception.


Binocular depth cues - Key takeaways

  • Depth perception refers to the ability to see the world in 3 Dimensions and judge how far away objects are from us.
  • We are able to judge depth using depth cues; there are two kinds of depth cues: monocular depth cues and binocular depth cues.
  • Monocular depth cues are information about depth that can be judged using only one eye. Some of these cues are height in plane, relative size, occlusion, and linear perspective.
  • Binocular depth cues are information about depth that uses both eyes. There are two types of binocular depth cues: convergence and retinal disparity.

Frequently Asked Questions about Depth Cues Psychology

Depth perception refers to the ability to see the world in 3 Dimensions (3D) and judge how far away objects/close are from/to us.

There are many monocular depth cues, some of these are height in plane, relative size, occlusion, and linear perspective.

An example of binocular cues in psychology is convergence. This is where, in order to present images of what we see onto the retinas (the layer of tissue at the back of the eyes that sense light and transports images to the brain), the two eyes must rotate inwards toward each other. The closer an object is, the more the eyes must rotate. The brain uses this information (amount of rotation) as a cue to construe how far away an object is, by detecting muscle differences the convergence causes in our eyes, and analysing that information to decide the depth. It's a feedback tool, in a sense.

The two types of cues in depth perception are monocular depth cues and binocular depth cues.

Final Depth Cues Psychology Quiz

Question

What is depth perception?

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Answer

Depth perception is the ability to see the world in 3D and judge how far away objects are from us.

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Question

What are the two kinds of depth cues?

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Answer

Monocular depth cues and binocular depth cues

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: monocular depth cues are information about depth that can be judged using _____.


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Answer

One eye

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Question

What is height in plane?


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Answer

This is when objects that are placed higher up appear further away.

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Question

What is relative size?


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Answer

If there are two objects that are the same size the object that is closer will look larger.

Show question

Question

What is occlusion?


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Answer

This is when one object partially hides another object. The object in front is perceived to be closer than the one that is hidden. 

Show question

Question

What is linear perspective?


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Answer

This is when two parallel lines come together at some point in the horizon, the closer together the two lines are the further away they seem.

Show question

Question

What are the two types of binocular depth cues?


Show answer

Answer

Convergence and retinal disparity

Show question

Question

What is convergence?


Show answer

Answer

To present images of what we see to the retinas the two eyes rotate inwards towards each other. The closer an object is the more the eyes rotate. The brain uses this information (amount of rotation) as a cue to construe how far away an object is.

Show question

Question

What is retinal disparity?


Show answer

Answer

When we see something, slightly different images of what we see are sent to each retina. The brain processes the degree of difference or disparity between the two images and assembles one image for us that has depth, height, and width. The disparity between the two images allows the brain to calculate how far away an object is. An object that's close has a large disparity. An object that's far away has a small disparity. 

Show question

Question

What is a common example of linear perspective?

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Answer

A road that appears to converge in the distance.

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