Distance perception is among the most pervasive mental phenomena and the oldest research topics in behavioural science. However, we do not understand well the most pervasive finding of distance perception research, that of large individual differences. There are large individual differences in acrophobia (fear of heights), which we commonly assume consists of an abnormal fear of stimuli perceived normally. Evolved navigation theory (ENT) instead suggests that acrophobia consists of a more normal fear of stimuli perceived abnormally. ENT suggests that distance perception individual differences produce major components of acrophobia. Acrophobia tested over a broad range in the present study predicted large individual differences in distance estimation of surfaces that could produce falls. This fear of heights correlated positively with distance estimates of a vertical surface—even among non-acrophobic individuals at no risk of falling and without knowledge of being tested for acrophobia. Acrophobia score predicted magnitude of the descent illusion, which is thought to reflect the risk of falling. These data hold important implications in environmental navigation, clinical aetiology and the evolution of visual systems
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