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Gestalt Psychology. Chapter 12. Cognitive Psychology, Third Edition by Kathleen M. Galotti Copyright © 2004 by Wadsworth Publishing, a division of Thomson Learning. The Gestalt revolt. Around 1912…. Structuralism in waning, functionalism gaining ground

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Gestalt Psychology

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gestalt psychology

Gestalt Psychology

Chapter 12

Cognitive Psychology, Third Edition by Kathleen M. GalottiCopyright © 2004 by Wadsworth Publishing, a division of Thomson Learning

the gestalt revolt
The Gestalt revolt
  • Around 1912….
    • Structuralism in waning, functionalism gaining ground
    • Watson begins attack on Wundt and Titchener (1912)
    • People becoming aware of Thorndike’s and Pavlov’s animal research
    • Psychoanalysis 10 years old
  • In Germany…
    • Gestalt revolt
      • Revolt against Wundt
the gestalt revolt3
The Gestalt revolt
  • A hypothetical debate:
    • Describe what you see (on the table)
  • Wundt
    • Consciousness made up of sensory elements
  • Gestaltists
    • Consciousness can not be reduced to elements
    • The whole is different from the sum of its parts.

The Gestalt revolt

  • More to perception than meets the eye
    • Perception goes beyond the sensory elements
    • Elements can be put together in ways other than just mechanical association; perception is not passive
    • These elements are only physical data coming to the sense organs, where the mind codes and interprets them

Sensation vs. Perception

Kassin, S. (2001). Psychology, third edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


The Gestalt revolt

  • James
  • Phenomenology
    • A new introspective method:
      • Uncorrected observation (no trained observers)
      • Experience not analyzed into elements
another important influence
Another important influence…
  • The changing zeitgeist in physics
    • Physics moving away from atomism to fields of force
the phi phenomenon a challenge to wundtian psychology
The phi phenomenon: A challenge to Wundtian psychology
  • Wertheimer's 1910 research
    • Research idea
      • Idea came to him while riding a train
      • Apparent movement:
        • Why do we see movement when no actual physical motion occurs?
      • Stroboscope

the phi phenomenon a challenge to wundtian psychology9
The phi phenomenon: A challenge to Wundtian psychology
  • Stimulus: two points of light being flashed sequentially
  • Wundt’s prediction:
    • perception of two successive points of light
  • Reality:
    • the perception was of a moving light when in fact the lights were not moving
  • Presented a challenge that the associationistic, elementistic psychology of Wundt could not meet

bistable figures


The phi phenomenon

  • 1912: Wertheimer published results
  • Article indicates formal start of Gestalt school
  • 1933: fled Germany

Gestalt Psychology

  • Founders
    • Wertheimer, Koffka, and Kohler – 1920s
    • “The whole differs from the sum of its parts”
    • Perception is not built up from sensations but is a result of perceptual organization
    • We use heuristics to make “best guesses” about the identity of stimuli
kurt koffka 1886 1941
Kurt Koffka (1886-1941)
  • 1922: article published in American journal
    • “Perception” in title led to misunderstanding that this was the sole interest of Gestaltists
    • Gestalt movement actually had a broader concern
      • Problems of thinking and learning and all aspects of conscious experience
wolfgang k hler 1887 1967
Wolfgang Köhler (1887- 1967)
  • Spokesperson for school of thought
  • Trained with Max Planck
  • Studied chimpanzees
  • 1935: left Germany due to anti-Nazi activities
  • Books became standard works of Gestalt theory
  • Suggested Gestalt theory as general law of nature
principles of perceptual organization
Principles of Perceptual Organization
  • We perceive wholes, not clusters of sensations
    • Elements interact to create a “new” whole
      • The whole is different from the sum of its parts
    • Underlying premise:
      • Perceptual organization occurs instantly and is inevitable
    • Organizing principles not dependent on:
      • higher mental processes
      • past experience

Perceptual Constancies

  • Size Constancy
    • Tendency to view an object as constant in size despite changes in the size of the retinal image.


Perceptual Constancies

  • Shape Constancy
    • Tendency to see an object as keeping its form despite changes in orientation.

Kassin, S. (2001). Psychology, third edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Principles of Perceptual Organization

  • Proximity

Principles of Perceptual Organization

  • Closure

Principles of Perceptual Organization

  • Good continuation


Principles of Perceptual Organization

  • Common fate


Principles of Perceptual Organization

  • Figure/Ground

figure ground
  • Failing to divide figure from ground

the nature of the gestalt revolt
The nature of the Gestalt revolt
  • Demanded complete revision of psychology
  • Support for new view
    • Phi phenomena
    • Perceptual constancy
  • Attempts at analysis destroy the perception or whole (Gestalt)
gestalt studies of learning
Gestalt studies of learning
  • Köhler: intelligence in apes

gestalt studies of learning insight and the mentality of apes
Gestalt studies of learning: insight and the mentality of apes
  • Solving the problem:
    • Could the chimp see the “whole” problem?
    • Would proximity of objects influence solution of problem?
    • Insight
      • Spontaneous understanding of relationships
the spread of gestalt psychology
The spread of Gestalt psychology
  • Mid-1920’s (Germany)
    • A coherent and dominant school in Germany
    • Attracting students from around the world
  • 1933 Nazi regime:
    • shift of Gestalt psychology to the United States
the spread of gestalt psychology31
The spread of Gestalt psychology
  • Slow acceptance in the united states
    • Behaviorism was at its peak
    • A language barrier
    • Belief that Gestalt psychology dealt solely with perception
    • Wertheimer, Köhler, and Koffka at small colleges without graduate programs, thus no graduate research assistants
the spread of gestalt psychology32
The spread of Gestalt psychology
  • Slow acceptance in the united states
    • Gestalt focus of protest (Wundt) no longer of concern in U.S.
    • The word “Gestalt”
      • Had no direct translation in English
      • Therefore, purpose of movement not obvious
the gestalt vs the behaviorism revolutions
The Gestalt vs. the Behaviorism Revolutions
  • Both occurred independently of one another, but…
    • both started by opposing Wundt’s focus on sensory elements.
    • Ended up opposing each other
      • Value of consciousness
        • Gestalt psychologists
          • Accepted it
          • Criticized attempt to reduce it to elements
        • Behavioral psychologists
          • Refused it entirely
the battle with behaviorism
The battle with behaviorism
  • Gestalt criticisms of its new target
    • Reductionistic and atomistic
    • Deals with artificial abstractions (S-R units)
    • Denies the validity of introspection
    • Eliminates consciousness
    • Would make psychology no more than a collection of animal research
  • Conflicts between proponents of the two schools grew increasingly emotional and personal
criticisms of gestalt psychology
Criticisms of Gestalt psychology
  • Organization of perceptual processes accepted as fact rather than studied scientifically
  • Basic concepts and terms are not defined with sufficient rigor
  • Too preoccupied with theory at the expense of research and empirical support
  • Quality of Gestalt experimental work is inferior to that of the behaviorists
    • Research lacks adequate controls
    • Its unquantified data elude statistical analysis
    • Insight learning: not replicable
  • Poorly defined physiological assumptions
gestalt rebuttals
Gestalt rebuttals
  • A young science’s explanation and definitions are necessarily incomplete; Gestalt research is exploratory
  • Incomplete is not the same vague
  • Has from the beginning emphasized experimentation
  • Has engendered a considerable amount of research
  • Qualitative results take precedence over quantitative ones
contributions of gestalt psychology
Contributions of Gestalt psychology
  • Permanent imprint on psychology
    • Influenced work in perception, learning, thinking, personality, social psychology, and motivation
  • Retained its identity, not absorbed by the mainstream as was behaviorism
  • Broke ground for cognitive movement
  • Fostered interest in consciousness as a legitimate problem for psychology