Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Gestalt Psychology

Gestalt Psychology
Gestalt Psychology
The word “Gestalt” is a Gernman word which means form or configuration. Sometimes, the Gestalt psychology is called configuration psychology. The Gestalt School developed in Germany around the year 1912 under the guidance of Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Kohler.

This school (Gestalt school) had its inception as a result of Wertheimer’s interest in the phi-phenomenon, an illusion of movement. Wertheimer was interested in the perception of movement and he conducted a large number of experiments on “phi-phenomenon”.

In one such experiment, Wertheimer exposed a vertical line followed by a horizontal line with a very short interval of time (say, fraction of a second). The subjects should have perceived them as two different lines exposed one after the other. But they perceived only one line.

The Gestalt School of psychology developed as a revolt against the structuralism and associationism. But when it gained momentum, it also protested against Watson’s Behaviorism. It must be noted here that both behaviorism and Gestalt psychology developed about the same time in two different countries, but neither party had any knowledge of the other’s development.

Silent features:

Behaviorism abandoned the study of conscious experiences. It confined itself to the study of overt behavior only. But Gestalt psychology proposed to continue the study of experiences. According to its founders, excellent psychological data can be obtained from direct experiences. Experience is an important object of study in psychology. Thus, Gestalt psychology aimed at studying both overt behavior and experiences.

Behaviorism opposed the analysis of the structure of conscious into its component elements. It emphasized the association of stimulus and response in behavior. It reduced behavior to S-R (Stimulus-Response) units. Gestalt psychology was opposed to analysis altogether. It was opposed to reductionism. According to Gestalt school of psychology, every experience carries with it a quality of wholeness. The whole dominates over its parts.

Behaviorism rejected introspection as a method of investigation. But Gestalt psychologists did not reject introspection altogether. They favored phenomenological introspection.

Behaviorism rejects sensation because of methodological difficulties in studying sensory process. Gestalt psychology rejected sensation because sensations are atoms or elements of experiences.

Behaviorists ignored the study of perception. But the study of perception was the very heart of Gestalt psychology. Perhaps, no other school of psychology contributed so much to the study of perception as the Gestalt school.

The analysis of behavior by behaviorists is a molecular one. But the explanation of behavior by Gestalt psychology is a molar one. It must be mentioned here that molecular behavior occurs in the organism in a given geographical environment. But according to Gestalt psychologists, behavior occurs in a given geographical environment which is regulated by behavioral environment. They, therefore, differentiated between geographical environment and the behavioral environment. The environment as it exists in reality is the geographical environment. But the environment as perceived by the individual is the behavior environment.

Watson’s behaviorism reduced thinking to laryngeal habits. Watson identified thought with implicit speech movements. He interpreted thinking in the light of peripheral theory and psychological orientation. But Gestalt psychology discarded Watson’s explanation of the thought process. Gestalt psychologists presented a psychological approach to the study of the thought process. Gestalt psychologists were opposed to the association theory of thinking or piecemeal thinking. They insisted on the fact that when confronted with a problem, the individual must understand the essential structure of the whole situation and make an appropriate response. The individual must be able to organize or reorganize the materials so as to produce some results. These psychologists favor productive thinking.


For structuralists and functionalists like Wundt and Titchner, perception was a crucial problem. Watson ignored perception. But the Gestalt psychologists want to make the study of the perceptual process the very heart of their system.

There is a general agreement among contemporary psychologists that the Gestalt school exerted a greater influence of the evolution of modern perceptual psychology that any other group. 

Gestalt psychology is “form” psychology. According to its proponents, our perceptual experiences arise as Gestalten or molar configurations which are not mere aggregations of sensations but organized and meaningful whole. 

Gestalt psychologists apply the total approach as opposed to the part approach and say that individual perceives objects as “whole” and not part by part. The whole approach provides meaningful perception because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, when we perceive a table, we perceive it as a molar object, not a collection of color patches, four legs, nuts, bolts and the like. 

After innumerable experiments on perception, these psychologists were able to formulate certain laws which govern the organization of perception. These laws are the following:

·         The law of proximity
·         The law of similarity
·         The law of closure
·         The law of good figure
·         The law of continuation
·         The principle of figure and ground

However, the Gestalt school’s challenge in the area of perception was so successful that the Gestalt principles are now widely recognized as fundamental.