Gestalt Processing



The word Gestalt has no real English meaning but it references the way something has been "gestellt". This refers to the manner in which things are placed or arranged. The theory focuses on the way the mind perceives processes in relation to the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Therefore, to put it simply individuals view an object in its entire shape and form as opposed to the detailed parts of the object. Objects appear as they do in virtue of the parts' relation to one another. (Blake, 2006)

Ironically, there are various "laws of organization" within the Gestalt theory.
  1. Proximity - grouping occurs based on location. Objects nearby will tend to be grouped together.proximity.GIF
  2. Similarity - grouping occurs based on the properties of likeness. The dimensions of similarity that control grouping include lightness, orientation and size. (Blake, 2006) similar.GIF
  3. Closure - grouping occurs based on the filling in of gaps. closure.GIF
  4. Part/Whole- grouping occurs based on the detailed characteristics of the item and the overall characteristic
  5. Continuity- grouping occurs based on the permanence and connection between items. This refers to the tendency to percieve clusters or strings of individual elemens as forming a single contour or path. (Blake, 2006)


The Gestalt theory was founded by Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka. All three theorists focused on different aspects of the theory that have developed individually.
Wertheimer assessed Gestalt processing in terms of problem-solving. He stated that problem-solving was successful when the whole problem was regarded as opposed to the various parts of it. Wertheimer coined the term "Pragnanz", which in German means "precision". The concept stated that "when things are grasped as wholes, the minimal amount of energy is extered in thinking."
Koffka on the other hand assessed the theory from an applied psychology and child psychology perspective. He created a theory about infants that they initially experience elements as a whole rather than in individual details.
Kohler experimented with animal behaviour and learning which led him to the conclusion that the relationship between stimulus and responses were learned rather than already

Kohler’s experiments with animal learning led him to conclude that they exhibited "insight," (Driscoll 1993), where relations among stimuli and responses were learned, rather than simple stimulus-reponse connections critical to behaviorist theory. In these experiments, apes were subjected to different trials of having to obtain food that was just out of their reach. They learned how to construct a way to get the food, whether standing on a box to get it, making a long stick to reach it, through trial and error. Kohler determined that the apes generated an "interconnection based on the properties of the things themselves" (Driscoll 1993) and thus developed insight on how to get the food based on the tools they had available at a given time.


"The whole is different from the sum of its individual parts" (Blake, 2006)


Gestalt Theory-
Pictures of Gestalt Theory -
Blake, , Randolph and Robert Sekuler. Perceeption: Fifth Edition. Boston: Allyn, 2000.