Gestalt School Of Thought

Do you know why we refer to movies as Motion Pictures?

This is because movies are a series of photographs moving at an increased speed and viewed as a single entity.

As described by Max Wertheimer, this example of the Phi Phenomenon is an optical illusion studied under the Gestalt School of Thought.

The Gestalt of Thought originated in the 20th century, in Germany and Austria, as a reaction against the structural school of thought and associationism, which studied the smallest possible elements. On the other hand, Gestalt School focuses on looking at things as a whole, suggesting that the whole, was more than simply the sum of its parts.

Max Wertheimer is the founder of this school. His work and observations contributed to the Gestalt approach and to other areas such as experimental psychology and the study of sensation and perception.

The birth of this approach took place when Wertheimer, in his publication “Experimentelle Studien über das Sehen von Bewegung”(Experimental Studies of the Perception of Movement) in 1912. He reported the result of a study on apparent movement conducted in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, with psychologists Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka. Together, these three formed the core of the Gestalt school for the next few decades.


The earlier mentioned Phi Phenomenon is one of the early works of this school, which was mainly focused on perceptual organisation bringing out the holistic approach. The Law of Pragnanz given under the Principles of Perception stated that "There is less effort exerted by humans when they view things as a whole". Hence this school of thought has an impression on various fields within and outside Psychology. The approaches of Perception, Problem-solving, Learning and Thinking were viewed from the Gestalt School of Thought.

E.g. the Gestalt Principles were later applied to motivation, social psychology, personality (particularly by Kurt Lewin) and aesthetics and economic behaviour. The idea that the whole is different than its parts has influenced our understanding of the brain and social behaviour. Gestalt theory still impacts how we understand the vision and the ways in which context, visual illusions, and information processing affect our perception.

The Principles of Gestalt and Memory also go hand in hand.

Memory refers to the encoding, storage and retrieval of the information that we receive from the environment. Memory depends on factors which further make it a long term or a short term one. But the most important factor here is our perception which adds meaning to the information we receive from the outside world in the form of sensations.

Gestalt School of Psychology is concerned with nothing but mainly perception and visuals, which is why gestalt school is related to memory and acts as a boon for this concept.

The main reason is that the process of memory begins with sensory memory i.e. information gained through senses iconic i.e through eyes and echoic i.e. through ears, is the kind of sensory memories that are used the most.

Since visual memory and perception are used the most, one might apply gestalt principles in their daily life. The earlier mentioned Law of Pragnanz says that when given complex information, one's brain tries to simplify it by perceiving it as a whole. Hence to simplify the complex information, we use principles of perception, which are as follows -

LAW OF SIMILARITY - This law suggests that one tends to group objects that share some similarity, be it colour, shape, size etc. For example - If we see a few people in a crowded area wearing a shirt of a similar colour, we might group them to be part of one association or group.

LAW OF PROXIMITY - One might perceive an object, shape or element to be a part of the same group if it is placed near each other. For example - One perceives every individual to have similar characteristics to their peer group if they observe them daily hanging out with the same set of people.

LAW OF COMMON REGION - If the entity belongs within a certain boundary, it is perceived to be a group with the other elements in the boundary.

LAW OF CONTINUITY - If the object's elements are kept in such a way that they form a line or curve, one might perceive them as a continuous entity according to the law of continuity.

So when one perceives the stimuli in the environment after simplifying it, one tends to remember things more vividly and for a long time period. Therefore better perception leads to better memory.

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This Blog on 'Gestalt School Of Thought' has been contributed by Simarpreet Kaur, who is currently pursuing BA in psychology from GGDSD College, Chandigarh. She is keenly interested in singing, creating content and drawing and looks forward to becoming a counsellor someday.

She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP). GIRP is an IJNGP initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.