Gestalt Principles of Organization

views updated

Gestalt principles of organization

Principles of perceptual organization proposed by the early 20th-century German psychologists of the Gestalt school.

The psychologists in Germany who proposed the Gestalt principles of organization developed theories and research focusing on the effects of holistic patterns or configurations (the rough meaning of the German term Gestalt ) on perception . Much of their work emphasized the concept that the whole affects the way in which parts are perceived: "the whole is more than the sum of its parts."

The Gestalt principles of organization involve observations about the ways in which we group together various stimuli to arrive at perceptions of patterns and shapes. For example, at the most basic level the principle of proximity leads us to group together objects that are close to each other spatially. We also have a powerful tendency to group together mentally items that are similar to each other in terms of their appearance, texture, or other properties. Other qualities that govern our perceptions are continuity and closure: if part of an object (or person) is blocked from view, we assume that it is a continuous whole and automatically "fill in" the missing part or parts.

The attribute of simplicity also affects perception. People will interpret something they see in a manner that provides the simplest possible explanation. For example, if all other things are equal and one has a choice of perceiving a drawing as either two-or three-dimensional, it will be perceived as two-dimensional. However, if its features make it more complex to interpret in two dimensions than in three, one will automatically perceive it as three-dimensional. A final influence on perception, called "common fate," has to do with movement. Visual stimuli (such as a flock of birds or a marching band) that are moving in the same direction and at the same speed are perceived as belonging together.

Further Reading

Köhler, Wolfgang. The Task of Gestalt Psychology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.