Saturday, March 3, 2012

Gestalt Psychology

Gestalt psychology
 (also Gestalt theory of the Berlin School) is a theory of mind and brain that proposes that the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. The classic Gestalt example is a soap bubble, whose spherical shape (its Gestalt) is not defined by a rigid template, or a mathematical formula, but rather it emerges spontaneously by the parallel action of surface tension acting at all points in the surface simultaneously. This is in contrast to the "atomistic" principle of operation of the digital computer, where every computation is broken down into a sequence of simple steps, each of which is computed independently of the problem as a whole. The Gestalt effect refers to the form-forming capability of our senses, particularly with respect to the visual recognition of figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines and curves.

Gestalt is a German word which translates roughly to mean "form", "shape" or "pattern" in English. (The word Gestalt is capitalized because in German all nouns are capitalized). In the early twentieth century Gestalt psychologists in Germany studied perceptual phenomena that caused them to doubt the usefulness of structuralist assumptions. Max Wertheimer(1880-1943), Kurt Koffka(1886-1941) and Wolfgang Koehler(1887-1967) found that arrangements of perceptual stimuli close together in time or space created illusions of connections between the stimuli. For example, if blinking lights were positioned closely beside each other, a subject seemed to be "moving" from one light fixture to the next and the next. As another example, consider the powerful illusion of "motion" pictures: when a series of still photograph frames are projected in quick succession, one sees not separate frames but continuous motion of the characters and action on the screen.

Wertheimer, Koffka and Koehler dubbed such "apparent movement" the phi phenomenon. They observed that human perception seemed particularly prone to such illusions, and speculated that it is more meaningful to connect close-together events than to keep them artificially separate.

Gestalt psychologists focused on identifyiung the priniciples of perception and the conditions under which these principles apply. They concluded that the human mind imposes an order or "meaning" of its own, rather than passively absorbinug the content of sensory experiences.

More recently Gestalt psychology has influenced bothy approaches to psychotherapy and the modern development of cognitive psychology. With its emphasis on the importance of meaning in human perception and behaviour, Gestalt psychology contributes disticninctively to psychological theories of human nature.

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