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History & Systems of Psychology
Chapter 14 – Gestalt Psychology

Gestalt Psychology
Begun in Germany in early 20th century, came to U.S. largely because of Nazi persecution
Rebellion against Wundt’s elementism - “Gestalt” = whole
Major founders:
Max Wertheimer
Kurt Koffka
Wolfgang Kohler
Phenomenological experience

Antecedents of Gestalt Psychology
Concept of the “active mind”
Kant: conscious experience results from the interaction of sensory stimuli & actions or faculties of the mind
Wm. James: not elements, but active & dynamic processes (the “stream”)
Developments in physics
Founders familiar with Einstein, advances in physics, Kohler studied with Max Planck (quantum mechanics)
Particular interest in force fields, their application to psych.

Founding – Phi Phenomenom
Wertheimer 1912 paper on phi phenomenom (apparent movement)
Demonstrated that the whole is greater than and different from the sum of its parts – a key idea in Gestalt psychology.
Refuted Wundt’s explanation attributing it to (learned) eye muscle movements, showed it had nothing to do with learning

Application of Field Theory
Believed brain contains structured force fields of electrochemical forces, & sensory data entering a field both modifies the force field and is modified by it
Conscious experience results from interaction of sensory data & force fields
Fields are organized configurations
Psychophysical isomorphism: “Experienced order in space is always structurally identical with a functional order in the distribution of underlying brain processes.”

Top-Down Analysis
Organized brain activity dominates our perceptions, NOT the stimuli that enter into that activity.
Therefore, the whole is more important than the parts, and understanding of the brain must move from the whole to the parts.
Also flows from idea that whole is different from the sum of the parts.

Law of Pragnanz
Configurations of energy in physical systems, including the brain, always arrange themselves in the most simple, symmetrical way possible under the circumstances.
When incomplete sensory information interacts with force fields in brain, resulting cognitive experience will be complete & organized.
Law of Pragnanz: psychological organization will always be as good as conditions allow, i.e. as organized, simple, and regular as possible

Perceptual Constancies
Refers to the way we respond to objects as if they are the same, even though the sensory info received by senses may vary greatly
Ex.: objects approaching from distance don’t seem to grow larger; objects seem the same from different angles & under different lighting
Believed to be the result of learning – sensations are different, but we learn to correct for differences
Gestaltists disagreed – direct of brain activity, shows that we experience the relationship between the object & its environment, which remains unchanged

Perceptual Gestalten (Configurations)
Over 100 configurations ID’d, including:
Figure-ground relationship
Principles of perceptual organization
Principle of continuity
Principle of proximity
Principle of inclusiveness
Principle of similarity
Principle of closure

Subjective & Objective Reality
Geographical (physical) environment vs. behavioral environment (our subjective interpretation of the geographical env.)
What we are conscious of at any given moment, and therefore what we respond to, is more a product of the brain than of the physical world.

Learning – Cognitive Trial & Error
Law of Pragnanz means that a problem is a disruptive state to be resolved, causes disequilibrium and tension that motivates the person to solve the problem
Typically solve problems by scanning the environment and cognitively trying one possible solution after another until one is found
Cognitive vs. behavioral trial & error

Learning – Insight & Transposition
Insight: experiment with apes and bananas demonstrated insight rather than behavioral trial & error
Transposition: shades of gray experiment with chickens demonstrated ability to learn a principle and apply it to a new situation rather than specific learned responses

Productive Thinking
Wertheimer contrasted learning by behavioral principles (reinforcement, laws of association) with Gestalt view that learning and problem-solving are intrinsically reinforcing
Rote learning – reproductive thinking
Productive learning is creative
Ex. 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10
Ex. 1 4 9 1 6 2 5 3 6 4 9 6 4 8 1

Kurt Lewin
“Field Theory” applied Gestalt psychology to motivation, personality, & group dynamics
Life space: all influences acting on a person at a given time; these influences are called psychological facts
Motivation: Zeigarnik effect
Conflict: distinguished 3 types: approach-approach, avoidance-avoidance, approach-avoidance
Study of group dynamics (applying analogy of field of energy) led to encounter groups & leadership training