The tunnel effect, Gibson's perception theory, and reflective seeing

Psychol Res. 1992;54(3):160-74. doi: 10.1007/BF00922095.


Subjects can have continuous visual experience of an object's movement across a display though the movement's middle phase takes place behind an opaque screen. The present article considers explanatory issues pertaining to this so-called, tunnel effect, with special reference to Gibson's perception theory and the visual activity that I have been calling reflective seeing. Among the issues discussed are the following. (a) In the tunnel experiments, I suggest, there occur both persisting perception, as Michotte held, and persistence perception, as Gibson held. The subjects pick up stimulus information that allows visually experiencing the object's going out of sight at one edge of the screen and coming back into sight at another edge of the screen; the subjects have visual experience of the continued existence and movement of the object while it is out of sight. Moreover, persistence of perceptual experience is involved: when the object goes out of sight, the subjects' visual experience of its movement goes on. (b) I also argue that the tunnel effect is a phenomenon of both straightforward and reflective seeing. Adopting a phenomenal attitude, as one does when reporting one's perceptual experience, one still sees movement taking place on the other side of the screen, as one does in straightforward seeing. However, whereas straightforward seeing does not give inner awareness of visual experience, the subjects in the tunnel experiments report visually experiencing the object's movement while also visually experiencing the opaque screen in front of it as opaque. I argue that these reports, and those about the object's going out of and coming back into sight, must be based on the kind of visual experience that is part and product of reflective seeing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Awareness*
  • Humans
  • Orientation
  • Psychophysics
  • Social Environment*
  • Visual Perception*