Gestalt psychology – NOTE

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Gestalt psychology (also: Gestalt theory of the Berlin School) is a psychological theory which provides a framework for a wide variety of psychological phenomena, processes, and applications. Human beings are viewed as open systemsin active interaction with their environment. It is especially suited for the understanding of order and structure in psychological events.

Although Max Wertheimer is to be 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 and Ernst Mach. Both von Ehrenfels and Edmund Husserl seem to have been inspired by Mach’s work “Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen” (Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations, 1886) to formulate their very similar concepts of Gestalt and Figural Moment respectively.

Early 20th century theorists, such as Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer, and Wolfgang Köhler 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 isolate principles of perception; seemingly innate mental ‘laws’, which determined the way in which objects were perceived. These laws took several forms, such as the grouping of similar, or proximate objects together, within this global process. Although it has been criticised for being merely descriptive, it has formed the basis of much further research into the perception of patterns and objects (ref: Carlson, Buskist & Martin, 2000) and of research into behavior, thinking, problem solving and psychopathology.

Examples of the Gestalt experience include the perception of an incomplete circle as a whole or a pattern of dots as a shape- the mind completes the missing pieces. Studies also indicate that simple elements/ compositions where the meaning is directly perceived do not offer as much a challenge to the mind as complex ones and hence the latter are preferred over the former.

Gestalt psychology should not be confused with the Gestalt therapy of Fritz Perls which is only peripherally linked to Gestalt psychology. A strictly Gestalt psychology based therapeutic method is Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy, developed by the German Gestalt psychologist and psychotherapist Hans-Juergen Walter.


See also: Gestalt theory, Wolfgang Metzger, Solomon Asch, Fritz Perls, Gestalt therapy, structural information theory,Gestalt effect, James Tenney

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