Gestalt Psychology

The Mona Lisa is one of the world's most famous paintings.  When viewers travel from all over the world just to lay eyes on the masterpiece, their brain perceives what Leonardo da Vinci intended - a grinning woman sitting in front of a beautiful landscape. However, what the viewer does not immediately see is each brushstroke created by da Vinci. Gestalt theory psychology, established as a school of thought in 1912, would have an explanation for this. 

Gestalt Psychology Gestalt Psychology

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Table of contents
    • What is Gestalt psychology?
    • What psychologists have contributed to Gestalt psychology?
    • What are key principles of Gestalt psychology?
    • What are modern day applications of Gestalt theory?

    What Is the Gestalt Psychology Definition?

    In German, the word "Gestalt" loosely translates to mean "configuration" or "structure."

    Gestalt is used to define a configuration where the sum of its many parts makes up the whole.

    Gestalt theory psychology is the school of thought that seeks to understand and observe the human mind as a whole rather than focus on its smaller components. Gestalt psychologists also use this perspective to understand and observe behavior.

    Gestalt Theory Psychology vs Structuralism

    Gestalt psychology was developed in position to William Wundt and Edward B. Titchener's school of thought called structuralism. Let's take a look at how this theory differs from structuralism.

    Structuralism Gestalt Theory Psychology
    Psychologists observe the basic components of mental processes.Psychologists should observe the whole of mental processes.
    Bran focuses on the interaction of small parts to understand complex perceptions.The brain perceives the whole before it perceives individual parts.
    Focuses more on introspection.Focuses more on perception.

    Who Are the Most Important Scientists in Gestalt Theory Psychology?

    Some of the most influential scientists in gestalt theory psychology are Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka.

    Max Wertheimer: Gestalt Psychology Founder

    Born April 15, 1880, German psychologist Max Wertheimer is considered the founder of Gestalt psychology. Wertheimer's influence was established through his paper, Experimental Studies of the Perception of Movement (1912). In this paper, Wertheimer laid on the basic ideas of Gestalt theory. He also believed that Gestalt theory should be institutionalized, which influenced the establishment of the Gestalt Institue of Cleveland.

    Wolfgang Köhler

    Wolfgang Köhler, born January 21, 1887, worked closely alongside Wertheimer. Köhler had a particular interest in natural sciences and physics. He was the first to introduce the concept of psychophysical isomorphism.

    Psychophysical isomorphism theory states that the perceptual stimulus perceived by the brain corresponds with the brain's activity and overall state.

    One of Köhler's most significant contributions was his book entitled Mentality of Apes (1917), where he discusses his analysis of the intelligence of apes.

    Kurt Koffka

    Kurt Koffka, who also worked closely alongside Wertheimer, was known for expanding Gestalt concepts to include motion, memory, and learning. Koffka laid out these new principles in his article, Principles of Gestalt Principles (1935).

    What Are the Gestalt Psychology Principles?

    Since its establishment as a school of thought, Gestalt psychologists and theorists have identified several Gestalt principles.

    A Gestalt psychology principle is a law used to explain the design and perception of the world.

    Let's take a look at a few examples of Gestalt principles that involve grouping. This includes figure-ground, similarity, proximity, continuity, closure,

    Gestalt Psychology Examples

    The following text will explore six Gestalt principles through different examples.

    Figure-Ground

    Figure-ground is a principle that states that the brain perceives an object (or figure) as part of its surroundings (or ground).

    In this example, the brain either sees one face with a black background or two faces with a white background. Figure-ground can also apply to hearing. For example, if you are in a crowded room but catching up with a friend, your friend's voice is the figure, and the other voice is the ground. The figure-ground switches back and forth continuously (i.e. you can shift your focus to the voices in the room and zone out your friend's voice).

    Similarity

    Similarity is a principle that states that the brain groups similar objects together.

    Gestalt Psychology, letters and Gestalt psychology principles, StudySmarterDiagonal line of the letter, StudySmarter Original

    In this example, the brain groups the letter "o" together and perceives a diagonal line rather than each "o" individually.

    Proximity

    Proximity is a principle that states that the brain groups together objects that are nearby.

    Gestalt Psychology, lines and Gestalt psychology proximity principle, StudySmarterTwo objects made up of four lines, StudySmarter Original.

    Here, you probably first saw two figures rather than four individual lines. Your brain is grouping objects close to each other before seeing each individual object.

    Continuity

    Continuity is a principle that states that the brain sees smooth or continuous patterns rather than a disjunct pattern comprised of smaller parts.

    Gestalt Psychology, railroad and Gestalt psychology continuity example, StudySmarter

    Three railroad tracks intersect, freepik.com

    In this image, the brain first sees three railroad tracks intersecting rather than many disjunct lines. This is due to its tendency to see continuous lines.

    Closure

    Closure is a principle that states that the brain will form a whole object in any gaps.

    Gestalt Psychology Tile Floor and Gestalt Psychology Example and StudySmarter

    Squares of a tile floor with flowers intersecting, freepik.com

    Even though the flowers on this tile floor intersect the corners of each square, the brain still sees squares. This is due to the brain filling in the gaps to see the full shape.

    Prägnanz

    Prägnanz is a principle law that states that our brain will try to simplify complex shapes by seeing a more simple shape.

    Gestalt Psychology, circle and Gestalt psychology principle, StudySmarterCircle with complex shapes and patterns, pixabay.com

    Finally, the brain will first see one large circle rather than each individual shape or pattern. Gestalt principles can also explore depth perception, color and brightness constancies, and motion perception.

    Modern-Day Applications of Gestalt Theory

    Some modern-day applications of Gestalt theory psychology include:

    • Gestalt therapy

    • Art and Design

    • Education and Learning

    Gestalt Therapy

    Gestalt therapy was initially developed by a German psychiatrist and psychoanalyst named Fritz Perls. In 1952, Perls established the Gestalt Therapy Institute in New York. In this new approach to psychotherapy, the patient begins by explaining their problems to their therapist.

    The therapist then begins asking questions that assist the patient in identifying broader conclusions that rebate on the sum of their experiences. This approach to psychotherapy was meant to help the patient form a deeper sense of self-awareness and self-reflection. Gestalt therapists aim to solely use how or what questions rather than why to help the patient focus on the present.

    Art and Design

    In 1912, Wertheimer discovered another Gestalt principle called the phi phenomenon.

    Phi phenomenon states that stationary objects shown rapidly appear to be moving.

    This Gestalt principle is used as a basis for motion pictures. Animated productions, for example, use a series of still images shown rapidly to bring the images to life.

    We also see Gestalt theory psychology in art. Artists use these principles to control what they want their viewers to see. For example, an artist might use small clippings of a magazine to create a portrait of a woman. Then, they use Gestalt psychology principles to understand and guide their decisions to create the desired illusion.

    Education and Learning

    Finally, Gestalt theory psychology is helpful in education and learning. For example, teachers might encourage their students to find a relationship between smaller ideas as a problem-solving method. Or, students may be encouraged to use the Gestalt principle of closure to fill in gaps to deepen their understanding of a topic or idea.

    Gestalt Psychology - Key takeaways

    • Gestalt theory psychology is the school of thought that seeks to understand and observe the human mind as a whole rather than focus on its smaller components.

    • Max Wertheimer is considered the founder of Gestalt Psychology. He worked hard with his assistants, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka.

    • Gestalt psychology was developed in position to William Wundt's school of thought called structuralism, arguing that psychologists should not focus on the basic components of mental processes but how the basic components form a whole.

    • A Gestalt psychology principle is a law used to explain the design and perception of the world. These might include visual grouping, depth perception, color and brightness constancies, and motion perception.

    • Some modern-day applications of Gestalt theory include gestalt therapy, art and design, and education and learning.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Gestalt Psychology

    What is Gestalt psychology?

    Gestalt theory psychology is the school of thought that seeks to understand and observe the human mind as a whole rather than focus on its smaller components.

    Who founded gestalt psychology?

    German psychologist Max Wertheimer is considered the founder of Gestalt psychology. Wertheimer's influence was established through his paper "Experimental Studies of the Perception of Movement" (1912). In this paper, Wertheimer laid on the basic ideas of Gestalt theory.

    What are the basic principles of Gestalt psychology?

    The basic principles of Gestalt psychology are figure-ground, similarity, proximity, continuity, closure, and prägnanz.

    What is the emphasis of the Gestalt approach?

    The emphasis of the Gestalt approach is that psychologists should observe the whole of mental processes rather than the basic components.



    What is an example of Gestalt psychology?

    Gestalt theory psychology is helpful in education and learning. For example, teachers might encourage their students to find a relationship between smaller ideas as a method of problem-solving.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who is considered the Father of Gestalt psychology? 

    This Gestalt psychologist laid the framework for Gestalt therapy. 

    Which of the follow has been influenced by Gestalt psychology?

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