What Is Gestalt Psychology? Definition and Principles (Explained]

What Is Gestalt Psychology?

Gestalt psychology is the school of thought that looks into the systematic study of human behavior toward perception. According to this school, when we are perceiving the object, we perceive the object as a whole not by its parts.

A group of psychologists from Germany called “Gestaltist” explained these phenomena. The founders of Gestalt Psychology are Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka were the first psychologists to study form perception systematically in the early twentieth century. Based on experiments conducted in the 1920s and 1930s the Gestalt Psychologists proposed some basic perceptual rules the brain automatically and unconsciously follows, as it organizes sensory inputs into meaningful wholes.

Gestalt is a German word that is translated closely to “whole” or “form” in English. Gestalt psychologists proposed that humans are born with the ability to organize the elements of our perceptual world by producing the best or most complete perception of the environment.

Gestalt psychologists argued that in perception the whole is greater than the sum of its sensory parts.

Gestalt psychologists have developed some principles to describe the ways of perception. These principles are also known as “Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization” as well as ” Gestalt Principles of Perceptual Organization”.

Gestalt Laws/Principles of Perceptual Organization

The major laws or principles of Gestalt psychology are:

Law of Figure and Ground

The Law of figure and ground is one example of Gestalt laws of perceptual organization. According to this, when we see a visual stimulus, the center of our attention that attracts our vision is called the figure, and the rest is indistinct background called the ground. For example, the picture hanged on a wall, words on a page, mountains against the sky are perceived as figures, while the wall, page, and sky are the ground. See the figure,

An Ambiguous Figure: An Old Woman and A Young Lady

The figure has the following characteristics:

  • The figure is the first perceptual task to perceive any object and distinct from its surrounding, called ground.
  • The figure is the focus of our attention, the ground constitutes the reminder of our perception.
  • The figure tends to be smaller, more colorful, meaningful, and brighter than the ground.
  • The figure is perceived as near to the person and ground far from it.
  • The figure is distinct and perceived on the top of the ground.
  • The figure has a definite shape and location whereas the ground seems to spread all over the infinite.

If the figure is reversed it gives more than one perception. If we do not know the figure is reversible, it will not reverse. Such reversible figures and ground demonstrate that the same stimulus can trigger more than one perception. When figure and ground are not clearly defined or ambiguous shifts in perception may result, because of lack of reference and tasks is much more difficult. When confronted with figures like that in face or vase we can organize the material in at least two ways. Which is perceived first? The one you make the objects or figure comes ahead of the rest of the parts. See,

an old woman and a young lady

Principle of Similarity

Gestalt Principle of Similarity

One of the important principles of Gestalt psychology is similarity. According to this principle, the brain tends to group similar elements, items that are alike are grouped. For example, XXXOOO is perceived as three Xs and three Os. Objects that are similar in color, size, or shape are usually perceived as part of a pattern.

Following the above picture, people perceive the triangle and circle as vertical columns of similar shapes (fig. a.), not as horizontal rows of dissimilar shapes. Similarly, people perceive the same circle or triangle in horizontal rows of similar shapes (fig. b).

In an organization, all employees who wear yellow dresses are perceived as a common group while in reality, each worker is a unique individual.

Principle of Proximity

According to the proximity principle of Gestalt psychology, our brain tends to group objects that are close to one another. Items that are close to each other are perceived as a group.

proximity principle of Gestalt Psychology

See the above figure, we see not separate six lines but three sets of two lines. Employees in a plant are perceived as a group because of physical proximity. Workers working on a particular machine are viewed as a single whole or a group. The concept of team is more powerful and popular nowadays signifying proximity.

Principle of Continuity

It is also known as a good continuation or common fate. If possible, the brain organizes stimuli into continuous lines or patterns rather than discontinuous elements. The continuity principle of Gestalt psychology says that we perceive continuous flowing lines more easily than broken lines. Items that continue a pattern or direction tend to be grouped as a part of the pattern.

Gestalt principle of Continuity

From the figure, we perceive (a.) it as one set of dots forming an arc and another set of dots forming a straight line. The dots that are perceived as an arc have a common direction or common fate (b.), we perceive two continuous lines, one wavy and one straight.

Principle of Closure

According to the closure principle of Gestalt psychology, people tend to perceive incomplete figures as complete. If part of the familiar pattern or shape is missing perceptual processes complete the pattern to create a complete whole object.

Gestalt principle of Closure

We easily fill the gaps in the figure outline (fig. a., b., and c.) and see a complete triangle and weighing machines. Likewise, the dotted lines because of nearness create the letter T. People see these figures as complete but in fact, it does not exist, the brain simply fills the gap to perceive familiar patterns.

In an organization, the department head put forward the idea of the department on a given project, when in fact, there was opposition from several members. The head closes the existing gap between the members and is perceived in complete agreement when in fact, it does not exist. Similarly, political parties put forward their agenda or strategies despite different disputes within themselves.

Principles of the perceptual organization are readily visible in the natural world. They are effective in helping us to organize the perceptual world.

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