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Gestalt Principles of Perception

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Gestalt Principles of Perception

Have you ever heard the phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”? While this quote is attributed to the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, it is also the basic foundation for Gestalt psychology.

Founded by famous psychologists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, Gestalt psychology is especially prominent in the topic of perception.

  • We will help you define constructs within Gestalt psychology.
  • We'll then identify the rules in perception.
  • Finally, we'll apply these rules in relevant examples.

Gestalt Principles of Perception in Psychology

Let us first define and describe the theories of Gestalt psychology, and why they are significant within the psychological explanations of perception.

The APA dictionary of psychology defines perception as “becoming aware of objects, relationships, and events by means of the senses”. Through this process, the organization and interpretation of sensory information can occur (2013).

In psychology, the visual perception of stimuli can be attributed to what is called middle vision. This is when one goes from seeing the components of lines, edges, and objects into the basic perception of an image. The question then becomes, how can we explain this occurrence?

Defining the Gestalt Principles of Perception

To explain this process, the theories and principles of Gestalt psychology are applied. As previously mentioned, the main Gestalt theory of perception is the understanding that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. In terms of visual perception, this means that one can make an inference of a “whole” image or object before accounting for every individual “part” it is comprised of.

Contrary to the many misconceptions, the term "Gestalt" is not the name of the founder of this theory of perception. It is simply the term used as a label for the psychological theory itself.

To put things into perspective, think of a time when you have seen a shape of something in nature. The big dipper in the stars, a heart-shaped cloud, or even the shape of an animal made of rocks. These are all examples of the Gestalt theory of perception.

Gestalt Principles of Perception seeing shapes in clouds definition StudySmarterSeeing shapes in clouds, Wikimedia commons

What Are the Gestalt Principles of Perception?

Now that we have discussed the definition of perception and Gestalt psychology, we will list the principles themselves. There are a total of nine Gestalt rules in perception. They all describe the order in which we process visual information.

Good Continuation

This is the first Gestalt rule of perception. Just as the name suggests, this rule says that people will often perceive aligned images as smooth, complete, and continuous in contour (APA, 2013). In other words, lines and figures that overlap would be perceived as complete and unbroken regardless of one’s inability to confirm the hidden area of the object.

With the application of this law, a person perceiving an ‘x’ shape would perceive two complete lines intersecting one another. This displays good continuation because you will perceive this image as two whole keys overlapped, despite not being able to confirm whether the image of the key on the bottom displays a continuous and unbroken shape.

Gestalt Principles of Perception Crossed keys symbolising the Good Continuation gestalt principle of perception definition StudySmarterCrossed keys symbolising the principle of good continuation, Wikimedia commons

Closure

Similar to the rule previously mentioned, the law of closure reinforces the common perception of complete shapes and images even in the event that they are incomplete, missing components, or contain gaps.

Gestalt Principles of Perception gestalt principles of perception StudySmarterClosure, Wikimedia commons

What do you see in this image? Most people see a rectangle and a circle. What is actually being displayed is a group of gapped lines that we perceive as a rectangle and square.

Not only is this law present in the constructs of vision, but it also applies to the perception of sounds. Just as we can perceive incomplete shapes as a whole by using this law, we can also complete a sentence by automatically filling in the words!

Texture Segmentation

The third principle of perception states that one perceives shapes or groups dependent on texture. In other words, an image that has varying textures or patterns is perceived in separate “regions” within the whole image.

Gestalt Principles of Perception texture StudySmarterTexture, Wikimedia commons

As you can see, in this image of a crochet design, there is a clear difference in the textures of the knit. This allows the perception of a shape due to the clear regions of texture.

Similarity

The Gestalt law of similarity is just as simple as it sounds. When viewing objects or images that have distinct components with similarities between them, one will perceive these in groups based on those characteristics.

Gestalt principles of perception Similarity StudySmarterSimilarity, Wikimedia commons

Proximity

The principle of perception proximity differ from other laws in that it is based on the closeness or proximity of items. Using this law, one perceives the closeness of components in an image to be associated with one another. This law is so prominent in visual perception that it trumps other perception grouping effects like shape and color (Vinney, 2021).

Common Region

The common region rule is very similar to "proximity" in that items that seem in the same region as one another are perceived in groups.

One simple visual example of common region could be a daily pill box. Because elements are grouped together in each container, you will perceive the items visually as separated into groups.

Connectedness

This rule is applied when one perceives independent items within a visual to be connected. One prime example of this principle of perception can be seen in the common game of “connect the dots”.

Parallelism

According to the law of parallelism, items that are located parallel to one another are perceived in association with each other, or grouped. Components in the visual field that are parallel are perceived to be more related than items that are not parallel.

Think of how we perceive railroad tracks!

Symmetry

A visual that displays characteristics of symmetry are perceived as a unified structure.

Gestalt Principles of Perception A butterfly depicts the principle of symmetry in perception StudySmarterSymmetry as shown by a butterfly, Wikimedia commons

Importance of the Gestalt Principles of Perception

All of these rules may seem obvious and rather simple. However, each of them is essential to how we perceive the world around us. Imagine trying to organize all of the visual information we see in day-to-day life without these simple automatic rules of perception. It would be significantly more dangerous to drive, walk, or just survive without being able to quickly make inferences about shapes, lines, edges, and objects.

Imagine you are driving on a highway. You need to change lanes; when you look to see, the front fender of a car is in your view. Without needing to see the rest of the vehicle, you know that you do not have enough room to change lanes yet. Because you saw parts of the vehicle, you used the law of good continuation and avoided an accident.

This is just one crucial example of how the Gestalt principles of perception allow us to safely and quickly organize all visual information and stimuli.

Gestalt Principles of Perception - Key takeaways

  • The Gestalt theory of perception can broadly be stated as “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
    • The Gestalt theory perception holds that one can make an inference of a “whole” image or object before accounting for every individual “part” it is comprised of.
  • Good continuation is when lines and figures that overlap would be perceived as complete and unbroken.
  • The law of closure reinforces the common perception of complete shapes and images even in the event that they are incomplete.
  • The similarity rule of perception states that objects or images that have distinct components with similarities between them, will be perceived in groups based on those characteristics.
  • Proximity is when one perceives the closeness of components in an image to be associated with one another.

Frequently Asked Questions about Gestalt Principles of Perception

The Gestalt principles can help someone make an inference of a “whole” image or object before accounting for every individual “part.”

The Gestalt principles of perception are significant because they lead to the understanding that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Gestalt rules in perception are essential to how we organize visual information.

An example of the Gestalt principle of proximity can happen when you see a group of people standing together and you assume they must be associated with one another in some way.

Proximity affects perception because when components are close to each other in an image, it is perceived that they are associated with one another.

Final Gestalt Principles of Perception Quiz

Question

What is the gestalt theory of perception?

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Answer

It can broadly be stated as "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". 

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Question

What is the definition of perception?

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Answer

 The APA dictionary of psychology defines perception as “becoming aware of objects, relationships, and events by means of the senses”. 

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Question

What is middle vision?

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Answer

When one goes from seeing the components of lines, edges, and objects into the basic perception of an image.

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Question

The term "Gestalt" is not the name of the founder of the theory of perception. True or False?


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Answer

True

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Question

How many gestalt rules of perception are there?

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Answer

Nine

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Question

Good continuation refers to:


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Answer

People will often perceive aligned images as smooth, complete, and continuous. 

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Question

Closure refers to:

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Answer

The law of closure reinforces the common perception of complete shapes and images, even in the event that they are incomplete.

Show question

Question

Texture segmentation refers to:

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Answer

An image that has varying textures or patterns is perceived in separate “regions” within the whole image. 

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Question

Similarity refers to:

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Answer

Objects or images that have distinct components with similarities between them, will be perceived in groups.

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Question

The gestalt principle of proximity in perception is when: 


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Answer

One perceives the closeness of components in an image to be associated with one another.

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Question

Connectedness refers to:

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Answer

When one perceives independent items within a visual to be connected.

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Question

Why are the gestalt rules of perception important?

 

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Answer

 Each of them is essential to how we perceive the world around us. They are used to organize visual stimuli effectively and safely.

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Question

Fill in the blank: A visual that displays characteristics of __________ are perceived as a unified structure. 

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Answer

symmetry 

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Question

True or False: According to the law of connectedness, items that are located parallel to one another are perceived in association with each other, or grouped. 

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Answer

False

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Question

True or False: The main Gestalt theory of perception is the understanding that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

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Answer

True 

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