Major Movements in Psychology - Gestalt Psychology

12 important questions on Major Movements in Psychology - Gestalt Psychology

What is the basic concept of Gestalt Psychology?

Gestalt Psychology originated in 1910 with Max Wertheimer's study of the perception of motion. The core idea behind Gestalt Psychology is that the mind actively organizes information into a coherent whole or a gestalt. In other words, the mind is not a passive recipient of sensory stimuli but an active organizer of information.

Furthermore, knowledge does not come from a collection of isolated bits of information. Rather the mind creates a whole out of the relationships between separate parts.

Gestalt psychology is a holistic theory.

What is a gestalt?

A gestalt refers to a perceptual whole. The gestalt is created out of the relationships between the parts.

How do Gestalt ideas pertain to perception?

Gestalt psychology countered the assumption that perception is based solely on the stimulation hitting our sensory organs.

As the sensory stimulation coming in differs depending upon the circumstance, we would not be able to recognize an object or person as the same across different situations if our mind did not actively organize our perceptions to recognize the gestalt.

Who were the pioneers of Gestalt theory?

Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) is recognized as the father of Gestalt theory.

His interest was first piqued when he noticed the illusion of motion while sitting on a train. Although the landscape outside the train was stationary, it seemed to be moving backwards as the train sped by.

When he began his investigations at the University of Frankfurt in 1910, two slightly younger psychologists, Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967), und Kurt Koffka (1886-1941) came to work with him.

Their research into the Phi Effect was the beginning of a lifelong, shared commitment to Gestalt research and theory. 

Why is Gestalt theory important?

Gestalt theory is important more for its profound philosophical implications than for the specifics of its research findings.

  1. Gestalt theory put the mind back into academic psychology.
  2. Gestalt theory introduced a holistic paradigm, which was in sharp contrast to the associationist approach found in both behaviorism and Wilhelm Wundt's structuralism.

How did the holistic view of Gestalt theory go against the scientific worldview of the time?

The way to understand complex phenomena was to break it down into its smallest parts. Complexity in and of itself had no interest; it simply reflected a grouping of smaller parts. The whole could be reduced to the sum of its parts.

Gestalt theorists challenged this reductionist assumption. They were interested in synthetic reasoning. How do you put the parts back together again? How do you make a whole out of the relationships between parts?

Their core position was that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts".

How did William James's functionalism anticipate Gestalt theory?

Gestalt theory had much in common with James's iterest in the holistic flow of consciousness.

What other principles of perception come from Gestalt theory?

Rules of proximity, similarity, simplicity and closure. The first two rules suggest that object that are placed closely together or are similar to each other will be grouped together into a gestalt. The mind will combine them into a whole.

Closure reflects the tendency to fill in the gaps of a gestalt. If we see a circle with sections missing, we will still see it as a circle.

Further, the mind will group parts into a whole according to the simplest solution.

What were Wolfgang Köhler's studies on insight learning?

While in Tenerife, Köhler conducted an important series of studies on chimpanzees' problem-solving behavior. He set up rooms where bunches of bananas were placed just out of the chimpanzees' reach and then watched how they solved the problem of reaching the bananas.

What did these studies on insight learning show?

  1. The animals arrived at their solutions only after surveying the entire environment.
  2. The problem was not solved through trial and error via rewards and punishments as the behaviorists would have predicted. Instead the animal arrived at a complete solution all at once.

In other words, the chimps did not solve problems in a piecemeal fashion, but rather in a holistic way. Köhler referred to this holistic form of problem solving as insight learning.

How did Wolfgang Köhler study insight learning using apes?

Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967) conducted a famous series of studies on chimpanzees' methods of problem solving.

What is the difference between Gestalt psychology and Gestalt psychotherapy?

Gestalt therapy, a school of psychotherapy founded by Fritz Perls in the 1940s, is completely distinct from Gestalt psychology, the body of research and theory derived from Max Wertheimer's experiments with perception.

Gestalt therapy is commonly considered part of humanistic psychology and incorporates principles from the philosophical schools of phenomenology and existentialism as well as psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology.

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