What is Gestalt Psychology?

Describing gestalt psychology is difficult, largely due to the complexity of the subject. There are so many elements of the theory that it's hard to categorize and link them all together. Still, using all of the aspects contained by this form of psychology, we can extract one key message: we, as humans, experience things that aren't always to do with our basic sensations. Here, we build on this foundation to unveil more about the principles and applications of gestalt psychology.

If gestalt psychology was to be classified, it would be labeled as a theory of perception - how we comprehend what our senses convey across to us. Max Wertheimer was the first of several psychologists to coin this idea, with many others who helped develop this branch of psychology following his lead.

Continuing with how we perceive things, it's certain that vision, for instance, occurs because of communications between the eye and the brain - courtesy of electrical impulses carried across nerves. Despite this, how our understanding of what our senses tell us isn't achieved in the eye or the brain, but rather in our mind.

What's even more intriguing about how we interpret our senses is that we do it on an almost subconscious level. We do not think about what we see in depth, unless we are asked to analyze something in more detail, e.g. by listening to a rhythm carefully.

Another principle of the theory is that sometimes, there will be more than one way in which we can interpret something. In this instance, our brain always chooses the easiest interpretation. This cannot be controlled or changed; it happens before we have the chance to even begin thinking otherwise. Both of these crucial ideas are based around the laws of gestalt psychology.

When we think carefully about some of these laws, we can begin to distinguish where and when we use them in ordinary, real-life situations. The law of closure is a good demonstration of this. When we look at a recognizable object or shape that is incomplete, we have a tendency to fill in the gap to make it the full object or shape that we know well. Then when we look at it without much thought, we will see it how our mind has told us to.

The law of proximity influences us to see objects that are close together as 'one', as if they belong with each other. Yet another of the essential laws of gestalt psychology is the law of continuity. When we see or hear a sequence, be it of shapes or musical beats, we often find ourselves continuing it. It is these ideas, alongside productive (using insight to deal with a problem) and reproductive thinking (using knowledge from past experiences to deal with a problem) that have an impact on our perception.

With the finer points explored, we can argue that the reason why this particular branch of psychology is so popular comes down to the close relationship it has with ordinary life. We can connect the laws to our own experiences of perception. Even if gestalt psychology was more popular in the 20th century, it arguably still has a place in modern society.