Gestalt (Psychology)

Gestalt (psychology) or gestaltism is a theory of mind and brain that proposes that the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies; or, that the whole is different from the sum of its parts.

The Gestalt effect refers to the form-forming capability of our sense (the word Gestalt in German literally means “shape or “figure”), particularly with respect to the visual recognition of figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines and curves.


Although Max Wertheimer is credited as the founder of the movement, the concept of Gestalt was first introduced in contemporary philosophy and psychology by Christian von Ehrenfels (a member of the School of Brentano). The idea of Gestalt has its roots in theories by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, and Ernst Mach. Wertheimer’s unique contribution was to insist that the “Gestalt” is perceptually primary, defining the parts of which it was composed, rather than being a secondary quality that emerges from those parts, as von Ehrenfels’s earlier Gestalt-Qualität had been.

Early 20th century theorists, such as Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer, and Wolfgang Köhler (students of Carl Stumpf) saw objects as perceived within an environment according to all of their elements taken together as a global construct. This ‘gestalt’ or ‘whole form’ approach sought to define principles of perception — seemingly innate mental laws which determined the way in which objects were perceived.


Law of Closure

Gestalt Law of Closure

Law of Proximity

Gestalt Law of Proximity

Law of Similarity

Gestalt Law of Similarity

Reification is the constructive or generative aspect of perception, by which the experienced percept contains more explicit spatial information than the sensory stimulus on which it is based.

Gestalt Reification

For instance, a triangle will be perceived in picture A, although no triangle has actually been drawn. In pictures B and D the eye will recognize disparate shapes as “belonging” to a single shape, in C a complete three-dimensional shape is seen, where in actuality no such thing is drawn.

For further reading, please see the Wikipedia entry.


3 Responses to “Gestalt (Psychology)”

  1. 1 Kjeldsen August 16, 2009 at 12:45 PM

    Thanks for posting this… now I have an idea about the perception of shapes.

  1. 1 Understanding Visual Perception « TAFE in 2009 Trackback on March 27, 2009 at 2:08 AM
  2. 2 Inspiration/Ideas: Logos that Apply Gestalt « TAFE in 2009 Trackback on April 14, 2009 at 6:22 AM

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