The word Gestalt is used in modern German, which means the way in which a thing has been “placed,” or “put together.” There is no exact equivalent in English. “Form” and “shape” are the usual translations; in psychology the word is often interpreted as “pattern” or “configuration.”
So what exactly is Gestalt Psychology?
For a long time, we have been so used to seeing things as a single part or an object, like we see the fruit or the tree and not the whole garden, with gestalt psychology the whole is more important than the part.
Gestalt psychology is a school of thought that looks at the human mind and behavior as a whole. When trying to make sense of the world around us, Gestalt psychology suggests that we do not simply focus on every small component rather we see everything as a whole.
Instead, our minds tend to perceive objects as part of a greater whole and as elements of more complex systems. Gestalt school of psychology played a major role in the modern development of the study of human sensation and perception of the world.
In an apparently chaotic world gestalt psychology is an attempt to understand the law behind the ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions. “The mind forms a global whole with self – organizing tendencies” is the central principle of gestalt psychology.
This principle maintains that when the human mind (perceptual system) forms a perception or “gestalt”, the whole has a reality of its own, independent of the parts. The original famous phrase of Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts” is often incorrectly translated as “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and thus used when explaining gestalt theory, and further incorrectly applied to systems theory. Koffka did not like the translation. He firmly corrected students who replaced “other” with “greater”. “This is not a principle of addition” he said. The whole has an independent existence.
How is Gestalt Psychology Different from Other forms of Psychology?
The oldest school of psychology was based on structuralism which is based on breaking down the mental processes into most basic components. The psychologist working with this kind of psychology would introspect into the human behavior to analyze the inner processes of human mind.
Further, as a reaction to structuralism the new theories of functionalism were started by some psychologist. Here instead of focusing on the mental processes themselves, functionalist thinkers were interested in the role that these processes played.
Later the psychologist came with the idea of understanding how the parts of the world are perceived as a whole with the Gestalt psychology. In the study of perception, Gestalt psychologists stipulate that perceptions are the products of complex interactions between various stimuli. Contrary to the behaviorist approach to focusing on stimulus and response, gestalt psychologists sought to understand the organization of cognitive processes. Our brain is capable of generating whole forms, particularly with respect to the visual recognition of global figures instead of just collections of simpler and unrelated elements (points, lines, curves, etc.).
History of Gestalt:
If we have to speak about the history of gestalt, Gestalt psychology was the revolution in the field of psychology where the mind was considered as a structure, where mind was a part of something. In the midst of psychological structuralism gestalt was a complete contrast.
The concept of gestalt was first introduced in philosophy and psychology in 1890 by Christian von Ehrenfels (a member of the School of Brentano). The idea of gestalt has its roots in theories of David Hume, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, David Hartley, and Ernst Mach. Max Wertheimer’s unique contribution was to insist that the “gestalt” is perceptually primary, defining the parts it was composed of, rather than being a secondary quality that emerges from those parts, as von Ehrenfels earlier Gestalt-Qualität had been.
Wertheimer’s, Koffka’s, and Kohler’s main ambition was to study and explore the global and holistic processes involved in perceiving structure in the environment, in particular, these pioneers made it their goal to replicate human perception of groups of objects, how parts of objects are perceived? and how whole objects are formed through this process in essence, they studied the view of the organised whole and how it was related to learning.
Both von Ehrenfels and Edmund Husserl seem to have been inspired by Mach’s work Beiträge zur Analyze der Empfindungen (Contributions to the Analysis of Sensations, 1886), in formulating their very similar concepts of gestalt and figural moment, respectively. On the philosophical foundations of these ideas, we see the Foundations of Gestalt Theory (Smith, ed., 1988).
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 that determined the way objects were perceived. It is based on the here and now, and in the way things are seen. Images can be divided into the figure or ground. The question is what is perceived at first glance: the figure in front, or the background?
Principles of Gestalt Psychology
The whole is different from the sum of its parts, based on this belief, Gestalt psychologist developed a set of principles to explain perceptual organization, or how smaller objects are grouped to form larger ones. These principles are often referred to as the “laws of perceptual organization.” These laws or principles of perceptual organization which are shortcuts to solve many problems
- LAW OF SIMILARITY: This law suggests that similar objects tend to appear grouped together, it can be a visual or an auditory stimulus.
- LAW OF PRAGNANZ: The word pragnanz is a German term meaning “good figure.” The law of Pragnanz is sometimes referred to as the law of good figure or the law of simplicity. This law holds that objects in the environment are seen in a way that makes them appear as simple as possible.
- LAW OF PROXIMITY: The law of Proximity states that things that are near to each other seems to be grouped together
- LAW OF CONTINUITY: The law of continuity holds that points that are connected by straight or curving lines are seen in a way that follows the smoothest path. Rather than seeing separate lines and angles, lines are seen as belonging together.
- LAW OF CLOSURE: According to the law of closure, things are grouped together if they seem to complete some entity. Our brains often ignore contradictory information and fill in gaps in information.
Different laws of gestalt Psychology are the only explanation of how we perceive our environment and the context in the environment. Gestalt psychology is an insight into our world of perception and how we see the world.
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