The Gestalt theory
The first general theory of perception to be discussed, Gestalt theory, represents a fascinating paradox. As a formal theory of perception, it can be said to have failed. However, it can also be asserted that the approach was, within limits, brilliantly successful and that it continues to exert a significant influence on the psychology of perception. We shall attempt to show how this paradoxical situation came about.Gestalt theory is closely associated with the work of three men: Max Wertheimer (1880-1943), Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967), and Kurt Koffka (1886-1941). There were (and are) other Gestalt psychologists, but these men pioneered the approach.The remainder of this chapter will cover the following topics:
|• The historical background to the movement.|
|• A general outline of the Gestalt approach.|
|• A preliminary assessment of the Gestalt theory.|
|• Subsequent research on some of the Gestalt principles.|
We shall begin by tracing some of the historical origins of this important movement.
The benefit of hindsight allows us to discern some of the influences that made the emergence of the Gestalt theory almost inevitable.
When the philosopher Kant (1724-1804) published his Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, the book exerted a major impact on subsequent European philosophy. Nobody could do justice to this influential and difficult work in a few lines, but it is possible to take a single Kantian idea as an example of