Psychology Study Material: Gestalt Psychology, Gestalt Laws of Organization

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Gestalt Psychology

An approach that focuses on the organization of perception and thinking in a ‘’ whole ″ sense rather than on the individual elements of perception. Instead of considering the individual parts that make up thinking, gestalt psychologists concentrated on how people consider individual elements as units or wholes. They made great contributions to the understanding of the perceptual phenomena.

  • This school developed as a reaction to structuralism in the early 1900s
  • In contrast to the structuralist approach of breaking down conscious experience into elements, or focusing upon the structure, the Gestalt school emphasized the significance of studying any phenomenon in its overall form.
  • The word gestalt means “Configuration”
  • The main concept that the Gestaltists posed was that the “WHOLE” is more than the sum of its parts, and it is different from it too.
  • They concentrated on how people consider individual elements together as units or wholes
  • The concept of Gestalt applies to everything, objects, ideas, thinking processes and human relationships
  • Any phenomenon in its entirety may be much greater than when it is seen in a disintegrated form
  • Three German psychologists Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler were regarded as the founders of gestalt school as each one of them had done significant work in his respective field.
  • Max Wertheimer
  • The founder of Gestalt psychology, born in Prague in 1880
  • Studying at the University of Frankfurt he became aware of a form of apparent motion that was called “Phi phenomenon”
  • Phi phenomenon = when two lights are in close proximity to each other, flashing alternately they appear to be one light moving back and forth; therefore, the whole was different from the separate parts; movement perceived whereas it never occurred
  • We perceive experiences in a way that calls for the simplest explanation, even though reality may be entirely different; this is Gestalt Law of Minimum Principle. We tend to organize our experience so that it is as simple as possible.
  • Explanation of phi phenomenon led to a separate school of thought i.e.. , Gestalt school, that had deep rooted impact on learning, ethics, and social psychology

Gestalt Laws of Organization

We organize our experiences according to certain rules, in a simple way:

Gestalt Laws of Organization
  • Proximity: Close or nearer objects are perceived as coherent and related.
  • Similarity: Tendency to perceive objects, patterns or stimuli as groups, which are similar in appearance________parts of the visual field that are similar in colour, lightness, texture, shape, or any other quality
  • Good Continuation: Tendency to group the stimuli into smooth and continuous patterns or parts
  • Closure: It is the perceptual tendency to fill in the gaps and completing the contours; enables us to perceive the disconnected parts as the whole object.
  • Figure and Ground: Our perceptual tendency to see objects with the foreground as well as the background________ the object is being recognized with respect to its background. E. g. black board and chalk. (These will be discussed in detail in the section of perception) .

Kurt Koffka

  • Wrote the famous “Principles of Gestalt Psychology” (1935)
  • Talked about geographical versus behavioural environment: people՚s behaviour is determined by how they perceive the environment rather than by the nature of the environment.
  • Wolfgang Kohler
  • Gave the concept of “insight” and “transposition” , as a result of his observations of a caged chimpanzee and experiments with chickens
  • Insight = spontaneous restructuring of the situation
  • Transposition = generalization of knowledge from one situation to another
  • Kohler also talked about Isomorphism, changes in the brain structure yield changes in experiences

Other Major Contributions

  • Gestalt approach to ethics: Truth is truth when it is complete and corresponds fully to the facts of the situation
  • Zeigarnik՚s Effect: Bluma Zeigarnik՚s experiments; we remember interrupted tasks better. The tension caused by unfinished tasks helps us in remembering
  • Group Dynamics: Instead of focusing on people՚s individual attributes we should see them as whole persons.