Gestalt Psychology

Gestalt

Gestalt (gəshtält´) [Ger.,=form], school of psychology that interprets phenomena as organized wholes rather than as aggregates of distinct parts, maintaining that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The term Gestalt was coined by the philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels in 1890, to denote experiences that require more than the basic sensory capacities to comprehend. In 1912, the movement was given impetus in psychology by German theorists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka as a protest against the prevailing atomistic, analytical psychological thought. It was also a departure from the general intellectual climate, which emphasized a scientific approach characterized by a detachment from basic human concerns. According to the school, understanding of psychological phenomena such as perceptual illusions could not be derived by merely isolating the elementary parts for analysis, because human perception may organize sensory stimuli in any number of ways, making the whole different from the sum of the parts. Gestalt psychologists suggest that the events in the brain bear a structural correspondence to psychological events; indeed, it has been shown that steady electric currents in the brain correspond to structured perceptual events. The Gestalt school has made substantial contributions to the study of learning, recall, and the nature of associations, as well as important contributions to personality and social psychology. Gestalt therapy, developed after World War II by Frederick Perls, believes that a person's inability to successfully integrate the parts of his personality into a healthy whole may lie at the root of psychological disturbance. In therapy, the analyst encourages clients to release their emotions, and to recognize these emotions for what they are. Gestalt psychology has been thought of as analogous to field physics.

See W. Köhler, The Task of Gestalt Psychology (1969); Max W. Productive Thinking (rev. ed. 1959, repr. 1978); G. Higgins, Gestalt Psychology and the Theory of Emotional Growth (1987); D. Rosenblatt, Opening Doors: What Happens in Gestalt Therapy (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Documents of Gestalt Psychology
Mary Henle.
University of California Press, 1961
Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments
Muriel James; Dorothy Jongeward.
Perseus Publishing, 1996
The World in Your Head: A Gestalt View of the Mechanism of Conscious Experience
Steven Lehar.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Approaches to Cognition: Contrasts and Controversies
Terry J. Knapp; Lynn C. Robertson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "From Gestalt to Neo-Gestalt"
The Legacy of Solomon Asch: Essays in Cognition and Social Psychology
Irvin Rock.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 17 "Some Neo-Gestalt Psychologies and Their Relation to Gestalt Psychology"
Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology
Gregory A. Kimble; Michael Wertheimer; Charlotte White.
American Psychological Association, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 13 "Max Wertheimer: Modern Cognitive Psychology and the Gestalt Problem" and Chap. 17 "Natural Wholes: Wolfgang Kohler and Gestalt Theory"
Theories of Visual Perception
Ian E. Gordon.
Psychology Press, 2004 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "The Gestalt Theory"
Theoretical Models of Counseling and Psychotherapy
Kevin A. Fall; Janice Miner Holder; Andre Marquis.
Brunner-Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Gestalt Counseling"
Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology: A Historical and Biographical Sourcebook
Donald Moss.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Gestalt Therapy: The Once and Future King"
Perceptual Organization
Michael Kubovy; James R. Pomerantz.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1981
Librarian’s tip: "Gestalt Theory as a Phenomenalism" begins on p. 345
Topics in the History of Psychology
Gregory A. Kimble; Kurt Schlesinger.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.1, 1985
Librarian’s tip: "Gestalt Theory of Memory" begins on p. 115
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