Have you ever noticed how a series of flashing lights often appears to be moving, such as neon signs or strands of Christmas lights? According to Gestalt psychology, this apparent movement happens because our minds fill in missing information. This belief that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts led to the discovery of several different phenomena that occur during perception.
The image on the left illustrates the law of closure, which states that objects tend to be seen as part of a whole. There are no circles or triangles in this image, but our minds fill in the missing information to create these shapes.
Learn more about some of the Gestalt laws of perceptual organization.
What Is Gestalt Psychology?
Gestalt psychology was founded by German thinkers Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka and focused on how people interpret the world. The Gestalt perspective formed partially as a response to the structuralism of Wilhelm Wundt, who focused on breaking down mental events and experiences to the smallest elements. Max Wertheimer noted that rapid sequences of perceptual events, such as rows of flashing lights, create the illusion of motion even when there is none. This is known as the phi phenomenon. Motion pictures are based upon this principle, with a series of still images appearing in rapid succession to form a seamless visual experience.
According to Gestalt psychology, the whole is different than the sum of its parts. Based upon this belief, Gestalt psychologists developed a set of principles to explain perceptual organization, or how smaller objects are grouped to form larger ones. These principles are often referred to as the "laws of perceptual organization."
However, it is important to note that while Gestalt psychologists call these phenomena "laws," a more accurate term would be "principles of perceptual organization." These principles are much like heuristics, which are mental shortcuts for solving problems.
Follow the links below to find more information and examples of the different Gestalt laws of perceptual organization.