Gestalt School of Psychology

Gestalt Psychology



Gestalt psychology  was a movement in psychology founded in Germany in 1912. It’s main aim is to explain perceptions in terms of whole rather than by analyzing their constituents.

Gestalt psychology is a school of thought that looks at the human mind and behavior as a whole. When trying to make sense of the world around us, Gestalt psychology suggests that we do not simply focus on every small detail.

Instead, our minds tend to perceive objects as part of a greater whole and as elements of more complex systems. This school of psychology played a major role in the modern development of the study of human sensation and perception.

Gestalt is a psychology term which means “unified whole”. It refers to theories of visual perception developed by German psychologists in the 1920s. These theories attempt to describe how people tend to organize visual elements into groups or unified wholes when certain principles are applied. This approach was called the molar approach that contrasted the molecular approach which was adopted by schools of Structuralism and Behaviorism.FullSizeRender (1)


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The concept of gestalt was first introduced in philosophy and psychology in 1890 by Christian von Ehrenfels (a member of the School of Brentano). The idea of gestalt has its roots in theories by David Hume, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, David Hartley, and Ernst Mach. Max Wertheimer’s unique contribution was to insist that the “gestalt” is perceptually primary, defining the parts it was composed from, rather than being a secondary quality that emerges from those parts, as Von Ehrenfels’s earlier Gestalt-Qualität had been.


                                                                       Chrristian Von Ehrenfels                        

Both von Ehrenfels and Edmund Husserl seem to have been inspired by Mach’s work Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen (Contributions to the Analysis of Sensations, 1886), in formulating their very similar concepts of gestalt and figural moment, respectively.

Early 20th century theorists, such as Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer, and Wolfgang Köhler (students of Carl Stumpf) saw objects as perceived within an environment according to all of their elements taken together as a global construct. This ‘gestalt’ or ‘whole form’ approach sought to define principles of perception—seemingly innate mental laws that determined the way objects were perceived. It is based on the here and now, and in the way things are seen. Images can be divided into figure or ground. The question is what is perceived at first glance: the figure in front, or the background.



Kurt Koffka                                                     Wolfgang Kohler

Originating in the work of Max Wertheimer, Gestalt psychology formed partially as a response to the structuralism of Wilhelm Wundt. Although gestalt has been criticized for being merely descriptive, it has formed the basis of much further research into the perception of patterns and objects, and of research into behavior, thinking, problem solving and perceiving.  These laws took several forms, such as the grouping of similar, or proximate, psychopathology.

While Wundt was interested in breaking down psychological matters into their smallest possible part, the Gestalt psychologists were instead interested in looking at the totality of the mind and behavior. The guiding principle behind the Gestalt movement was that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

The development of this area of psychology was influenced by a number of thinkers, including Immanuel Kant, Ernst Mach, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.FullSizeRender

The development of Gestalt psychology was influenced in part by Wertheimer’s observations one day at a train station. He purchased a toy stroboscope which displayed pictures in a rapid sequence to mimic the appearing movement. He later proposed the concept of the Phi phenomenon, a concept of isomorphism, in which flashing lights in sequence can lead to what is known as apparent motion.


Max Werthiemer

In other words, we perceive movement where there is none. Movies are one example of apparent motion. Through a sequence of still frames, the illusion of movement is created.

“The fundamental “formula” of Gestalt theory might be expressed in this way,” Max Wertheimer wrote. “There are wholes , the behavior of which is not determined by that of their individual elements, but where the part-processes are themselves determined by the intrinsic nature of the whole.

It is the hope of Gestalt theory to determine the nature of such wholes.”[1]



In the 1920s Max Wertheimer, a German psychologist came up with
various principles of Gestalt, some of which, includes the principle
of proximity, the principle of similarity, the principle of
continuity, the principle of closure and the figure-ground principle.
These can be regarded as rules of the organisation of perceptual


Following those principles, Gestalt psychology became popular in
Germany. Max Wertheimer and his German associates Wolfgang Köhler and
Kurt Koffka are ever since regarded as the founders of Gestalt
psychology (Hergenhahn, 2009).


The growth of gestalt psychology was unfortunately halted by emerging
governmental policies, namely NAZISM.
The treat of nazism presented a real life threatening danger and
influenced the decision of the founders of Gestalt psychology to leave
Germany and move to the United States, therefore preventing them from
continuing to build on their research in Germany.

As a result of their migration, they were unable to carry on with
their work in Germany, so Gestalt psychology was at a standstill.

In 1922, Koffka wrote an article ‘the growth of the mind’ which
introduced gestalt psychology to the readers of the United State of
America. Wolfgang also published a book on gestalt psychology in 1929.
Their largest obstacle in America, however, was Behaviourism.
Behaviourism was very popular in the U.S.A and most behaviourists did
not accept the Gestalt theories.
Koffka died in 1941,  Wertheimer died in 1943, and Wolfgang died many
years later in 1967. As a result, Gestalt was once again at a

Despite all the criticism from some behaviourists, Gestalt psychology
became popular again, after some younger scientists spread the word of
Gestalt psychology world wide.


kurt_lewin.jpg Solomon_Asch

Kurt Lewin and Solomon Asch are two of the most known second
generation Gestalt psychologists.

Kurt Lewin was a very influential social psychologist. He was
considered the founder of social psychology and recognised for his
experiential learning and group dynamics researches. Also for all his
contributions to other areas of psychology.
Solomon Asch was also a famous social psychologist who is best
remembered for his study on conformity. Asch took the Gestalt idea to
study social behaviour. He found from his research on conforming, that
people changed their responses because of social pressure, to fit in
with a specific group.

Despite all its obstacles, Gestalt Psychology has managed to live on
until this day. It is featured in many psychology textbooks and has
even grown to include clinical applications.
Gestalt psychology is still known and used by many in today’s society.


The term isomorphism literally means sameness (iso) of form (morphism). In Gestalt psychology, Isomorphism is the idea that perception and the underlying physiological representation are similar because of related Gestalt qualities. Isomorphism refers to a correspondence between a stimulus array and the brain state created by that stimulus, and is based on the idea that the objective brain processes underlying and correlated with particular phenomenological experiences functionally have the same form and structure as those subjective experiences.

Isomorphism can also be described as the similarity in the gestalt patterning of a stimulus and the activity in the brain while perceiving the stimulus. More generally, this concept is an expression of the materialist view that the properties of mind and consciousness are a direct consequence of the electrochemical interactions within the physical brain.

A commonly used example of isomorphism is the phi phenomenon, in which a row of lights flashing in sequence creates the illusion of motion. It is argued that the brain state created by this stimulus matches the brain state created by a patch of light moving from one location to another. The stimulus is perceived as motion because the subjective percept of spatial structure is correlated with electric fields in the brain whose spatial pattern mirrors the spatial structure in the perceived world. [2]


The phi phenomenon is the optical illusion of perceiving a series of still images and it is a concept of isomorphism, when viewed in rapid succession, as continuous motion. Max Wertheimer, one of the three founders of Gestalt psychology, defined this phenomenon in 1912. The phi phenomenon and persistence of vision together formed the foundation of Hugo Münsterberg’s theory of film and are part of the process of motion perception.

The phi phenomenon is similar to beta movement in that both cause sensation of movement. However, the phi phenomenon is an apparent movement caused by luminous impulses in sequence, whereas beta movement is an apparent movement caused by luminous stationary impulses.


In the phi phenomena, a sequence of images causes us to perceive a movement sensation

Experimental demonstration

The classic phi phenomenon experiment involves a viewer or audience watching a screen, upon which the experimenter projects two images in succession. The first image depicts a line on the left side of the frame. The second image depicts a line on the right side of the frame. The time/lag (the inter-stimulus interval, ISI) between offset of the first and onset of the second line is varied. Once both images have been projected, the experimenter asks the viewer or audience to describe what they saw. This percept changes with the duration of the lag between presentation of the first and second line.

With very little time passing between the two presentations (ca. 0-30ms in the original study, Steinman et al. 2000), a viewer will report to perceive the two lines simultaneously. Just before the two lines are no longer perceived simultaneously, the phi phenomenon occurs: Although both lines are perceived to be stationary and simultaneous, motion is perceived between them. This motion is described as having direction (from the earlier presented line to the later presented line) but to not be bound to an object. It was therefore also described as ‘pure’ motion, that is motion that is not bound to an object.

This observation lead Wertheimer to suggest that the perception of motion is ‘as primary as any other sensory phenomenon’ (Boring, 1942; in: Steinman et al. 2000). To explain: Touch can be felt without seeing (hearing, smelling, …) that one is being touched. In that sense, it is ‘primary’ in that it does not rely on any other sense to be perceived. Likewise, phi motion is perceived without seeing an object moving, making it similarly ‘primary’ according to Wertheimer.

If the lag between consecutive presentations is prolonged further, (‘beta’ / ‘optimal’) motion is perceived. The line in position A is perceived to move to position B. In the original experiments of Wertheimer, a lag of 60 ms was found to be optimal to obtain this kind of percept. If the lag is further prolonged, two forms of partial movement can be perceived: dual movement and singular movement. In dual movement, two lines are perceived that both move, but not in a continuous way (like from A to B). In singular motion, two lines are perceived of which only one is moving. Finally, from a lag of around 200 ms in the original study onwards, the two lines are perceived to occur in succession—first A, then B. [3]






Law of Prägnanz (Good Figure, Law of Simplicity)

“People will perceive and interpret ambiguous or complex images as the simplest form(s) possible.” This is the fundamental principle of gestalt. We prefer things that are simple, clear and ordered. It take less time for us to process. It becomes easy to interpret and present less complex surprises.law_of_Pragnanz

When confronted with complex shapes, we tend to reorganize them into simpler components or into a simpler whole. You’re more likely to see the image above composed of the simple square, triangle and circle. In this case, seeing three distinct objects is simpler than seeing one complex object.


“When seeing a complex arrangement of elements, we tend to look for a single, recognizable pattern.” Closure seeks simplicity. Closure is the opposite of what we saw in the Prägnanz image above where three objects were simpler than one. With closure, we compile parts to form a simpler whole. Our eye fills in the missing information to form a complete, sensible image.2

In this image, you should see a rabbit even though the image is actually comprised of different lengths of horizontal lines. On the image above, you see a football even though the figure is few pentagons places randomly. Seeing the rabbit and football is simpler than trying to make sense of the individual parts. Closure works with how it is the human tendency to make sense of thing, patterns around us.

The key to closure is providing enough information so the eye can fill in the rest. If too much is missing, the elements will be seen as separate parts instead of a whole. If too much information is provided, there’s no need for closure to occur.

Symmetry and Order “People tend to perceive objects as symmetrical shapes that form around their center.” Symmetry gives us a feeling of solidity and order, which we tend to seek. It’s our nature to impose order on chaos. This principle leads us to want balance in composition, though our compositions don’t need to be perfectly symmetrical to be in balance.

Figure/Ground   “Elements are perceived as either figure (the element in focus) or ground (the background on which the figure rests).” Figure/ground refers to the relationship between positive elements and negative space. The idea is that the eye will separate whole figures from their background in order to understand what’s being seen. It’s one of the first things people will do when looking at any composition.5

The figure/ground relationship can be either stable or unstable depending on how easy it is to determine which is which. The classic example of where the relationship is unstable is the left image above. You either see a vase or two faces depending on whether you see the black color as figure and the white as ground, or vice versa. That you can easily bounce back and forth between the two perceptions demonstrates the unstable relationship. The more stable the relationship, the better we can focus on what we want  to see. Two related principles can help us:

Area: The smaller of two overlapping objects is seen as figure. The larger is seen as ground.

Convexity: Convex rather than concave patterns tend to be perceived as figures.

Uniform ConnectednessElements that are visually connected are perceived as more related than elements with no connection.” In the image below, lines connect two pairs of elements. This connection leads us to perceive that the connected elements are related to each other in some way.





Uniform Connectedness.  Of all the principles suggesting objects are related, uniform connectedness is the strongest. In the image above, even though we see two squares and two circles, we see the square and circles pairs as more strongly related because they are visually connected. Notice that the lines don’t need to touch the elements for the connection to be perceived. The law of unified connectedness states that elements that are connected to each other using colors, lines, frames, or other shapes are perceived as a single unit when compared with other elements that are not linked in the same way.

We can see that the human tendency to link or group elements, or focus on like items in a sea of dissimilar objects, is a powerful trait.

Common Regions

“Elements are perceived as part of a group if they are located within the same closed region.” Another way to show a connection between elements is to enclose them in some way. Everything inside the specified boundary is seen as related. Everything outside the boundary is seen as separate. The circles in the image below are all the same, but we see two distinct groups, since they are in different enclosures.common-regions

Placing the elements in different color backgrounds also work.


“Objects that are closer together are perceived as more related than objects that are further apart.” Proximity is similar to common regions but uses space as the enclosure. When elements are positioned close to one another, they are seen as part of a group rather than as individual elements. This is especially true when the elements in the group are closer to each other than they are to any elements outside the group.6

The objects don’t need to be similar in shape, size or any other aspects. They just have grouped together to show the proximity relationship.

Continuation “Elements arranged on a line or curve are perceived as more related than elements not on the line or curve.” Continuation occurs when the eye is compelled to move through one object and continue to another object. It’s the tendency to perceive a line that starts in one way as continuing in the same way. Another interpretation of this principle is that we’ll continue our perception of shapes beyond their ending points. In the image above, we see a line and curve crossing instead of four distinct line and curve segments that meet at a single point.7

Common Fate (Synchrony) “Elements that move in the same direction are perceived as more related than elements that are stationary or that move in different directions.” Regardless of how far apart the elements are placed or how dissimilar they appear, if they are seen as moving or changing together, they’ll be perceived as being related. The elements don’t need to be moving for the principle of common fate to be present. It’s more that they are seen as having a common destination. For example, if four people are clustered together, but two are observed heading toward the right, they will be seen as having a common fate. Even if two are only looking in the same direction, they’ll be perceived as having a common fate.8

Parallelism  “Elements that are parallel to each other are seen as more related than elements not parallel to each other.” This principle is similar to the common fate principle above. Lines are often interpreted as pointing or moving in some direction. Parallel lines are seen as either pointing or moving in the same direction and are thus related. It should be noted that for parallelism to be perceived, the lines can also be curves or shapes, though with the latter the shapes should be somewhat line-like in order for them to appear parallel. 9

Similarity  “Elements that share similar characteristics are perceived as more related than elements that don’t share those characteristics.” Any number of characteristics can be similar: color, shape, size, texture, etc. When a viewer sees these similar characteristics, they perceive the elements as being related due to the shared characteristics. In the image, red circles are seen as related to the other red circles and black circles to black circles due to the similarity in color. Red and black circles are seen as dissimilar to each other even though they’re all circles. To really understand how the law of similarity works, let’s look at a few examples. Take a look at the letters seen here

h h h h h h h h h h

q q q q q q q q q q

n n n n n n n n n n

p p p p p p p p p p

You would probably describe what you see as four rows of letters instead of ten columns of letters because we tend to group similar things into whole sets – that’s the law of similarity. An obvious place to find similarity online is in the color of links. Typically, links within content will be styled the same way, often blue and underlined. This lets the viewer know that the different pieces of text are related.10

Focal Points  “Elements with a point of interest, emphasis or difference will capture and hold the viewer’s attention.” This principle suggests that our attention will be drawn toward contrast, toward the element that is unlike the others in some way. In the image below, your eye should be drawn to the square. It’s a different shape and color from the other elements.We always tend to look for extraordinary among ordinary .The principle helps to quickly identify the unknown to alert us to potential danger. The principles of similarity and focal points are related,since uniqueness can only be seen among similar elements. 11

Past Experiences  “Elements tend to be perceived according to an observer’s past experience.” Past experience is perhaps the weakest gestalt principle. In conjunction with any of the other principles, the other principle will dominate over the past experience principle. Past experience is unique to the individual, so it’s difficult to make assumptions about how it will be perceived. However, there are common experiences we all share. For example, a lot of color meaning arises out of past experience. we can take the example of traffic light. We see them everyday and in most places. Hence we always tend to associate red with stop and green with go. 12Many of our common experiences also tend to be cultural. Colour again provides examples. In some countries, white is seen as pure and innocent and black as evil and death. In other countries, the associations may change.


Wolfgang Kohler described three properties of insight learning:

  • Insight-learning is based on the animal perceiving the solution to the problem.
  • Insight-leaning is not dependent on rewards.
  • Once a problem has been solved, it is easier to solve a similar problem.

For early education, learning by conditioning is common to all animals and human beings. But learning by insight is suitable only for intelligent creatures both human and animals and useful for higher learning. It is a kind of learning done by observation, by perceiving the relationship and understanding the situation.

When an individual or intelligent animal faces a problem, he thinks and looks over the whole situation and tries to figure out solutions. He tries to get some clues in the ways he should proceed to solve the problem, the method he should follow and a general awareness of the results of his actions. Then suddenly, he arrives at a solution through his mental exercises. But for this, the total view of the situation should be exposed to the individual who must feel urgency of the problem and its solution.

Insightful learning is also known as Gestalt learning which means that learning is related to the whole individual and arises from the interaction of an individual with his situations or environment.

Through this interaction emerge new forms of perception, imagination and ideas which altogether constitute insight.


  • Identification of the problem: (Obstacles on the way to the goal.)
  • Analyzing the situation of the problem: (Observation)
  • Trial of mode of response: (Forming simple trial and error mechanisms.)
  • Sustained attention: (Motivation to reach the goal.)
  • Cause-Effect Relationship: (Action- Insight development.)
  • Steady Repetition of Adaptive Behavior: (Implementing solution in other situations.)



It is a theory concerning ‘perception’. Gestalt considers learning as the development of insight, which is concerned with the nature of perception.  Perception is a process by which an organism interprets and organizes sensation to produce a meaningful experience of the world.  It is the ultimate experience of the world and typically involves further processing of sensory input.

Insight operates when an individual tries to find solutions to problems. It refers to the sudden flash in the mind about the solution to the problem.  A  Gestalt means perceiving the whole such as pattern, configuration or a form. In this situation stimuli and responses are combined in an organized and unified pattern.


Most of the scientific knowledge concerning learning was derived from the work on animal behavior, it was conducted by 20th century German Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler. During the time period, Edward Thorndike had concluded through his studies that learning is a trial and error method which is completely dependent on rewards and punishments. Kohler contradicted Thorndike’s approach, he attempted to prove that animals arrive at a solution through insight than trial and error.

Kohler conducted many experiments in order to prove his point, one of his experiments consisted of chimpanzees placed in an enclosed area and a reward was presented to them such as banana that was out of reach. He used four chimps in his experiments, Chica, Grande, Konsul, and Sultan. In one experiment, bananas were placed outside Sultan’s cage along with two bamboo sticks of different size. The sticks were not long enough to reach the food, the only way to reach the bananas was to join the two sticks. Sultan unsuccessfully tried to reach the banana with one stick and he even tried to push one stick along the other to touch the banana. After all such contemplation, Sultan put the sticks together accidentally and created a stick long enough to retrieve the banana outside his cage. On repeating the experiment, Sultan joined the sticks and immediately and solved the problem.



In another experiment bananas were suspended from the roof. The chimps first tried to knock them down by using a stick. Then, the chimps learned to stack boxes on top of one another to climb up to the bananas.



The concept of gestalt was first introduced in contemporary philosophy and psychology by Christian Von Ehrenfels. Back in 19th century Ehrenfels analysed the application of gestalt theory in music.

He begins with the following question: ”Is melody (i) a mere sum of elements, or (ii) something novel in relation to this sum, something that certainly goes hand in hand with but is distinguishable from the sum of elements?” Ehrenfels explained that a melody consists of individual sounds, but that it is considerably more than the sum of these notes. The individual notes would be able to join themselves for completely different melodies, while the melody would remain the same, if transposed into another key. Sensing a melody as more than the sum of its parts, help us remember them without having absolute pitch and in different keys. The tendency to organize separate units into some sort of whole is one of the central tenets of gestalt psychology, thus gestalt theory is applied here.

People respond to music, that suits their particular cognitive styles. This act can be associated to the law of pragnanz which states that observers prefer the most simplest and stable figure available to them. If we observe, our acknowledgement of a rhythm is accompanied by a muscular movement which is in sync with the rhythm. The grouping of musical spaces which is purely a mental process has led to this movement.

Apart from the perception of melody and rhythm, gestalt theories are also used in the perception of pitch, timbre and organisation of musical space.




Gestalt principles have widely been applied to improve teaching and learning especially in classrooms. Wertheimer decided to approach the problem of classroom learning in a different way. Working with subjects ranging from five years old to middle age, Wertheimer presented the problem of the parallelogram. First he would briefly go over with them how to work out the area of a rectangle, and then show them a parallelogram, asking for its area. This helped them get a real sense of the actual situation. This is also where Gestalt psychology finds application in Mathematics. [1]

Gestalt principles are also used to teach ethics to students, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) –a widely recognized personality inventory draws upon Gestalt theory. This personality profile is extremely popular in training and development and as an awareness tool among corporate leaders. In addition, Alcoholics Anonymous also draws upon Gestalt theory in its application of the twelve-step principles [2].

Learning must be purposeful and the learner must know its goals.
Teacher must relate previous experiences to new learning.
Emphasis on Understanding: Learner must use higher mental abilities like reasoning and problem solving.
Motivation: Teacher must arouse child’s curiosity, attention and motivation before class.
From whole to parts: teacher shall present the subject matter as a whole to facilitate insight learning.
Integrated approach:  While planning curriculum the subject must be integrated.


1.Law of Proximity
Related concepts or lessons should be taught aligned or closely to each other. This is the reason why subtraction is taught after addition, multiplication after subtraction then division after multiplication. Imagine teaching addition then jumping directly to polygons.
2. Law of Similarity
Similar lessons or contents should be grouped together to make learners develop understanding more efficiently and effectively. This is the reason why lessons are grouped into units.

3. Law of Closure
Incomplete information may make learners want to discover what’s missing, rather than concentrating on the given instruction. If students find a math algorithm confusing because a certain question is left unanswered or a step isn’t clear, they will tend to concentrate on that confused part of the process rather than the total process as a whole. This is why students get “lost”. Thus, lessons should be made clear and presented simply.
4. Law of Continuation
Lessons should be presented in such a way that learners will see these as connected and continuous. Now you know why we have the “Review” part of the lesson plan. This way, students will realize that their new lesson actually has continuity and is related to what they already know or to the previous lesson.
5. Law of Pragnanz
Pragnanz states that when things are grasped as wholes, the minimal amount of energy is exerted in thinking. In short, lessons should be holistic and simple.
6. Law of Figure/Ground
For a figure to be perceived, it must stand out from the background. Emphasis should be done on important aspects of the lesson. For example, teachers should vary the tone of their voice or write boldly or underline the important key words of the lesson.
Gestalt principle are also used in preparing and presenting instructional facilities. Gestalt theory is focused on the experience of contact that occurs in the here and now. It considers with interest the life space of teachers as well as students. It takes interest in the complexity of experience, without neglecting anything, but accepting and amplifying all that emerges.  It stimulates learning as experience and the experience as a source of learning. It appreciates the affections and meaning that we attribute to what we learn. Knowledge is conceived as a continuous organisation and rearrangement of information according to needs, purposes and meanings. It asserts that learning is not accumulation, but remodeling or insight. The contact experience between teachers and students is given value: an authentic meeting based on sharing ideas and affections. [3]

One aspect of Gestalt in phenomenology, which is the study of how people organize learning by looking at their lived experiences and consciousness. Learning best happens when instruction is related to real life experiences. Human brain can make up a map of stimuli caused by these learning experiences. Process of mapping is called isomorphism. As new thoughts and ideas are learnt brain makes connection or traces that are representative of links that occur between conception and ideas as well as images. This is trace theory. Gestalt learning emphasis on cognitive processes of higher order, causing learner to use higher problem solving skills. They must look at the concept and search the underlying similarities that link them into cohesive whole. The integration of gestalt psychology and gestalt theory forms a new theory called gestalt psychopedagogy that takes interest in specific way of teaching and learning process and educational relationship. Main objective is to make finally possible learning a real experience, an authentic experience of contact with environment and others, as experience of creativeness and formation.


  1. The Effect of Gestalt Methods in the Classroom: An Action Research Plan by Education with a Purpose retrieved from
  2. Applying the Principles of Gestalt Theory to Teaching Ethics retrieved from
  3. How gestalt can facilitate teaching and learning processes retrieved from


What made gestalt theory appealing to visual artists, educators, and visual communicators is that this school of psychology sought to explain “pattern seeking” in human behavior. These gestalt visual laws provided scientific validation of compositional structure, and were used by design educators in the mid-twentieth century to explain and improve visual work. A survey of design literature and textbooks, from the 1940’s to the modern day, reveals that gestalt theory is a vital component of design education. These laws have been particularly useful to print designers to create meaningful and organized two-dimensional designs such as logos, posters, magazines, book jackets, and billboards. Gestalt theory offers visual communicators a framework of analytical understanding upon which to base meaningful design decisions Designers of interactive media can use the gestalt laws of perception to explore how we interpret and organize visual information from our surroundings. Furthermore, as interactive media designs may include sound and time-based content (such as embedded video), interactive media designers may draw upon the gestalt laws of perception to structure user experiences. [1]

The fundamental law that governs the Gestalt Principles is that we tend to order our experience in a manner that’s regular, orderly, and recognizable. They’ll help us determine which design elements are most effective in a given situation. For example, when to use visual hierarchy, background shading, gradients, and how to group similar items and distinguish different ones.

These psychological principles hold the power to influence our visual perception, which allows designers to direct our attention to specific points of focus, get us to take specific actions, and create behavioural change.Finally, at the highest level, the Gestalt Principles help you design products that solve the customer’s problem or meet the user’s need in a way that’s beautiful, pleasing, and intuitive to use. [2]


    1. LAW OF SIMPLICITY- Our mind perceives things in its simplest form. Essentially, simplicity is about helping the eye find “comfortable” figures used to trigger an interpretation of what we are trying to show. The image below, for example, when studied in depth is made up of individual components that have no meaning when viewed separately, yet our mind automatically perceives them in combination to spell out the word ‘logo’.

The figure-ground principle helps to explain which element in a design will immediately be perceived as the figure and which will be perceived as the ground. The “figure” is the element in focus, while the “ground” is the background behind the figure.

Applied in design, figure-ground can make a significant difference in the way your piece communicates a message. In this ad for Melbourne’s Food & Wine Festival (2007), the wine bottles are strategically placed to create the illusion of a fork. In combining objects related to wine and food, this design conveyed the event’s message much more

This poster for the film “Peter and The Wolf” exemplifies the great creative potential in using the figure-ground principle to your benefit. On one hand, you get the image of a long wolf’s body. When you shift to looking at the white in the image (previously ground) as figure, you immediately spot a man’s silhouette — which we can assume is Peter’s.

figure and ground


Proximity in Site Navigation- One basic concept of grouping in web design is with navigational links, where not only do we keep the navigation links together, but also group them internally, putting links to similar pages together, categorizing them into sub-categories, and so on.

Proximity in Grouping Images-The 2002 Europe Music Awards site illustrates a different use of grouping. The MTV and Europe Music Awards logos form a separate group in the top left corner, while the logos of the sponsors form a group in the bottom right corner. The white space helps form the two groups, as do the two blue triangles in the corners. Note that the triangles are not present in the “unoccupied” corners, thus they reinforce the notion of the two groups. Also note that the two organizational logos are larger and positioned top-left, thereby increasing their importance in relation to the cluster of smaller logos to the bottom-right. The two clusters of logos not only form groups for design purposes, but for semantic purposes.musixc

Proximity in Web Forms-The next example is of a fairly straightforward Web form from Yahoo! Notice how the form is grouped into three segments: personal information, ID generation, and alternate ID provision. The form implies that first set of fields is the most important and the third is the least important. They are grouped by headings (themselves ordered by number and set apart by colour), and the fields themselves are arranged vertically, with the left sides of the field aligned with one another. Proximity is used to indicate grouping and importance.

Proximity in Icons Another aspect of proximity is the propensity to perceive items arranged on a line or curve to be related to one another.

Web designer Stu Nicholls created a nifty (albeit non-traditional) circular menu in 2008. Because of the circle that all eight icons sit on, and because of the light gray circles that compose the “background” of the menu, the icons are perceived to be part of a similar group.

It also helps that the icons are thematically similar — with similar colors, sizes, and styles. In Nicholls’s live menu, hovering over an icon brings up a menu description inside the inner circle. [3]

many logos

  1. LAW OF SIMILARITY- We perceive elements as belonging to the same group if they look like each other. The principle of similarity can be triggered using color, size, orientation, texture and even fonts. When laying out a multi-page document, for example, creating a strong type scheme will help readers understand which chunks of text are captions, which are headlines and which are body copy.

In the image below, our mind perceives the similarly colored circles not as individual circles but as combining to form rectangles, squares and lines separate from those of another


When visual elements move together in the same direction, we see them as part of a single group. Our eye is drawn towards figures that are moving together, and this principle is particularly important for 2D and 3D animations. In the image below, because each of the individual birds are travelling in unity in the same direction our mind perceives them as forming part of a single group, carrying away a captured fish.

coommmon fate6. LAW OF SYMMETRY- Symmetrical elements are perceived as part of the same group. In this poster for the Bike Expo in New York, the design concept aimed for a unified circle as the main focal point. To create the circle, the designer portrayed one half as a bike wheel and one half as a manhole cover. While different in texture and color, the fact that they resembled a symmetrical figure unified them in the eyes of this poster’s audience. symmtry7. LAW OF PARALLELISM- Elements with the same or very similar slopes are associated as a single group. When designing, we often change the inclination of our texts to match surrounding arrows or curves because it makes the entire figure look more visually compact. In this poster created to advertise the font Futura, different text areas are grouped using the principle of parallelism.

parallelism8. LAW OF CONTINUITY- Elements are visually associated if they are aligned with each other. Lines are perceived as a single figure insofar as they’re continuous. The smoother their segments are, the more we see them as a unified shape. This Christmas card by Publicis Singapore portrays how the principle of continuity can help us create shapes. The sharpened pencil’s thin green line helps guide the eye from the top of the composition to the bottom, creating a Christmas tree shape in a very unexpected way. continuity

9. LAW OF CLOSURE– We perceive elements as belonging to the same group if they are part of a closed figure. A great opportunity to explore the closure principle is logo design. Fedex’s logo “hides” a right arrow that not many have been able to spot throughout the years. By creating that negative space between the E and the X, and adding the illusion of closure by kerning the two letters very tightly, the arrow becomes visually apparent fedex

10.LAW OF COMMON REGION- When we find several elements that are part of a single region, we associate them as a single group. In this poster for Pixar’s Inside Out, artists Stacey Aoyama and Eric Tan use the common region principle to unify the movie’s characters inside a single human silhouette. As we visualize them inside the same region, we perceive them as coexisting within that space. If you’ve watched the movie, you know that this is largely its goal: to show that positive and negative emotions coexist in our minds to shape our behavior.inside out

11. LAW OF ELEMENT CONNECTEDNESS- We perceive elements as being united if they are connected by other elements. An easy way to think about this principle in action is a flowchart where arrows help connect one figure to the next. In these pieces by Jonathan Calugi for Harvard Magazine, the objects are unified by a line that runs through the entire composition — bringing unity and a sense of visual cohesion despite the amount of activity. [4]



  1. GESTLAT THEORY IN ART retrieved from
  2. 7 gestalt principles of visual perception retrieved from
  4. Simplicity, Symmetry and More: Gestalt Theory And The Design Principles It Gave Birth To retrieved from


Advertisers often note how their viewers respond to messages in the ads. The colors, images, sounds in an advertisement play an important role in captivating the attention of viewers. The response varies from viewer to viewer, depending on age, emotional background, physical condition, level of education and social class. Depending on the product or service, advertisers target the message to specific viewer demographics, who share common gestalt responses. Media and advertising professionals use gestalt theory to create effective ways of selling products. They strive for individuality so that consumers do not confuse their products with a competitor’s item. Figuring the overall success rate of using gestalt principles is based in sales results.

Like in this Kia ad that shows row after row of the same image- a hamster on a wheel, but at the bottom right there is a bright red Kia car. The contrast and dissimilarity between the gray hamsters and the car draws the viewers attention to the car immediately. kia carAnother example is of  an Avon sales catalog. When looking through the catalog the items, the lipsticks or nail polishes for example, are of similar shape and size and are displayed on the same page which leads our mind to perceive that they are a group and attempts to influences us to purchase them all rather than just one. This method must be successful to some extent as Avon has been around for a long, long time!

  1. LAW OF SIMILARITY- Just as we tend to group together objects that are close to one another, we also tend to group together objects that are similar—whether in color, shade, orientation or shape. For example- The logo for Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is an interesting example of this. The “C” is a proper letter, but in place of the “M,” “O” and “A” there are three corresponding shapes: a square, circle and triangle. Chances are that when you look at this logo, your inclination is to group the three colored shapes together – even though they aren’t all next to each other – and to view the black “C” as an outlier. It’d be a strain to perceive the square and the circle as a pair and the “C” and the triangle as another pair, even though this would be a more logical sequence. similarity ad
  2. LAW OF PROXIMITY- states that our minds will group things together if they are near one another. An example of how this law is used in advertising is when a product is presented by or next to a celebrity or famous figure.proxmity ads In viewing this, we will perceive the product and the celebrity as being grouped together influencing us to purchase the product. Proximity can be used as a visual depth cue; if an image is perceived as being closer, it is enhanced, whereas if two images appear to be equidistant, they are more equal. An Indian car company used this concept in their advertisement. The company directly compares a competitor’s car with their own, and in the picture their car is larger and overlaps the other car, making it appear to be closer to the viewer. By using the gestalt theory of proximity, their car should appear better than the competitor’s. The law of proximity is also used in marketing in grocery and retail stores. Marketing experts know that when items for sale are near one another our minds will perceive them as being a group. For example, have you ever noticed a rack of Hollandaise Sauce mixes hanging next to the asparagus in the produce department of your grocery store? This is the use of proximity in marketing as when we set out to buy asparagus and see the Hollandaise our minds link them together and we are encouraged to buy both. The law of proximity is not the only Gestalt law employed by sales and marketing In the logo of IBM, our brain combines all the horizontal bars as they are close enough to be perceived and read as IBM. ibm ad
  3. LAW OF CLOSURE- Previous experience with the figure or form facilitates our natural tendency to perceive an incomplete or partially hidden object as the same object that’s stored in our memory.
  4. LAW OF FIGURE AND GROUND- When we look at the Sony Walkman logo we don’t simply see a single plain containing orange and white pixels – even though that’s actually what it is. Rather, most of us perceive an illusory depth as well: we see a figure (a “W” and dot) and a ground that appears to be behind walkman fig nd ground The figure-ground gestalt principle, which says that when a smaller shape is surrounded by a larger uniform area, we perceive the smaller object to be in front and have the border. The human mind doesn’t like loose ends. When we see a figure that appears to be partially enclosed, our tendency is to “complete” it, even if that means supplying imaginary visual information. This is known as the closure principle.
  5. LAW OF CONTINUITY- The continuance principle holds that if line or curve segments are in alignment, we tend to perceive them as part of a continuous whole. That’s why, when describing the logo, nearly everyone would say it’s a partial circle with five branches sticking out.  But the mark could be described in other ways. Someone who’s suffered a brain injury and doesn’t conform to the normal continuance principles might say something like “it’s a checkmark whose right line curves downward, connected to a partial “C” shape with 4 lines sticking out of it. Without the continuance principle, you’d be more likely to perceive different segmentation in the logo. diction fig n grVarious other examples of law of continuity can be seen in logos of different brands like coca cola, adobe etc.


  1. LAW OF MULTISTABILITY- It refers to the tendency of perceiving two different kinds of perspectives together. For example the symbol of Spartan.


       By using various such gestalt principles advertisers could actually attract customers and increase the sales of their products.


Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls and Paul Goodman in the 1940s and 1950s, and was first described in the 1951 book Gestalt Therapy. It focuses on the integration between the “whole” person and his or her environment. Gestalt Therapy has a number of successful techniques that are applicable in therapy today and may be utilized across a broad spectrum of emotional issues.

General Ideas about Personality Development              

Gestalt Therapy deems that people cannot be considered as separate from their environment or from interpersonal relations. A psychologically healthy person is someone who is self-regulating through the changes in life and has developed a sense of “wholeness” between mind and body (Corsini & Wedding, 2000).


  • The perspective of phenomenology– Phenomenology refers to a discipline that helps people to understand their experiences in such a manner that they can differentiate between what they are actually perceiving and feeling in a situation and how those perceptions are influenced by past experiences. Gestalt therapists believe that individual experiences in the moment are actually real and have meaning as opposed to psychoanalysis that considers behavior symbolic of other issues, such as internal conflicts.
  • Field theory Events are analyzed as a whole, as opposed to being classified as belonging to some specific type. Gestalt therapists concentrate on what is happening in the immediate time frame and are concerned about how events happening now include influences from one’s past. Gestalt therapists attempt to describe what is going on with the person as opposed to classifying it, interpreting it, or speculating about it.
  • Wholeness and Integration- Wholeness refers to the whole person or the individual’s mind and body as a unit rather than as separate parts (Seligman, 2006). Integration refers to how these parts fit together and how the individual integrates into the environment. Often people who come to therapy do not have these parts fitting together in their environment
  • Awareness- Awareness is one of the most important elements in Gestalt Therapy as it is seen as a “hallmark of the healthy person and a goal of treatment” (Seligman, 2006). When individuals are “aware”, they are able to self-regulate in their environment. Two main causes of lack of awareness:
  1. Preoccupation with one’s past, fantasies, flaws and strengths that the individual becomes unaware of the whole picture.
  2. Low self-esteem.
  • Energy and blocks to energy- Gestalt Therapists often focus on where energy is in the body, how it is used, and how it may be causing a blockage (Corey, 2005). Blocked energy is a form of resistance, for example, tension in a part of the body, not breathing deeply, or avoiding eye contact. Gestalt Therapy is about finding and releasing the blockages that may be inhibiting awareness.

How the Components of Gestalt Therapy Apply to Treatment

Gestalt therapists use a number of techniques to develop awareness in individuals and help them become more genuine. These techniques include:

  1. Role playing– Role play helps individuals experience and understand different emotions and how they present themselves to others.
  2. The empty chair– By far the most famous technique developed by Fritz Perls is the open chair or empty chair technique. The client sits in a chair opposite an empty chair and imagines a specific individual (either oneself, a specific aspect of oneself, or someone else) and then communicates with this imaginary person. Next, they switch chairs and communicate with themselves from the perspective of the person in the empty chair. The technique helps individuals accept different polarities regarding feelings and experience, and acknowledge the perspective of other individuals or other sides of themselves.
  3. Dream interpretation– The psychoanalytic background of Perls led him to continue to use the interpretation of dreams as a therapeutic tool. Perls frequently used dreams to help people understand certain aspects of themselves as opposed to considering dreams to have some type of symbolic meaning of an unconscious conflict. Perls often asked clients to relive part of their dreams by taking the perspective of different people or objects that were in the dream and then trying to understand what those people or objects were experiencing.
  4. Interpretation of body language– Perls was very astute regarding the meaning of an individual’s posture. Gestalt therapists use body language to help individuals to understand what they are experiencing in the moment. For example, if an individual is clenching their teeth during a session, the therapist may ask them, “What does clenching your teeth say about what you are feeling?”
  5. Top dog — Underdog-A commonly utilized Gestalt technique is that of the top dog-underdog dialogue. This technique is used when the therapist notices two opposing opinions/attitudes within the client. The therapist encourages the client to distinguish between these two parts and play the role of each in a dialogue between them (Patterson, 1986).
  6. The Body as a Vehicle of Communication– Gestalt Therapy sees that not only are thoughts and emotions important to creating a feeling of “wholeness” for the client, the physical sensations are also important.
  • Locating emotions in the body– Gestalt Therapists may ask clients where they are experiencing the emotion in their body. For example, a client may say they are feeling nervous about something. The therapist may ask where this is coming from in the body and the response from the client may be that the feeling is butterflies in the stomach. This helps the client to bring about more awareness into sensations and their emotions.
  1. Confusion– The technique of dealing with confusion of the client is about drawing attention to the client’s hesitation in talking about something unpleasant. The hesitation can be shown through avoidance, blanking out, verbalism and fantasy (Patterson, 1986). By drawing attention to the hesitation, it creates self-awareness for the client and allows the client to work through the issue.
  2. Use of Language– Gestalt Therapists choose language that will encourage change in the client. The following are ways that this can be accomplished (Seligman, 2006):
  • Emphasis on statements rather than questions to highlight a collaborative client-therapist relationship.
  • “I” statements are used to promote clients ownership of feelings rather than placing blame on others.

How does gestalt therapy work? 

Fundamentally, gestalt therapy works by teaching clients how to define what is truly being experienced rather than what is merely an interpretation of the events. Those undertaking gestalt therapy will explore all of their thoughts, feelings, behaviours, beliefs and values to develop awareness of how they present themselves and respond to events in their environment.

When can Gestalt therapy be used?

Ultimately, gestalt therapy is considered to help individuals gain a better understanding of how their emotional and physical needs are connected. They will learn that being aware of their internal self is key to understanding why they react and behave in certain ways. This journey of self-discovery makes the approach beneficial for individuals who can be guarded when it comes to their emotions, and find it difficult to process why they feel and act the way they do.

Gestalt therapy is considered particularly valuable for helping to treat a wide range of psychological issues -as a long-term therapy or as a brief and focused approach. It has been found effective for managing tension, anxiety, addiction, post-traumatic stress, depression \, personality disorders and other psychological problems. Overall, people who participate in gestalt therapy tend to feel more self-confident, calm and at peace with themselves. Gestalt techniques are often used in combination with body work, dance, art, drama, and other therapies.. It heightens self-awareness and perception. It focuses on understanding emotional aspects of inter-relational dynamics between people and their social environments. [1]


  1. GESTALT THERAPY retrieved from


Hope our blog has enlightened you enough to play the game. Go ahead and match the words to test your knowledge. Here is the link


  1. (Gestalt psychology)
  2. (Gestalt principles)
  3. (Gestalt cycle)
  4. (application of gestalt psychology in art
  5. (Application of gestalt psychology in logo design)


‘Gestalt’ is a psychology term which means ‘unified whole’. It consists of many theories of visual perception developed by German psychologists in the 1920’s. Founded by Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka, it describes how people organise visual elements into groups based on principles of Pragnanz, Closure, Symmetry, Figure, Uniform connectedness, Common regions, Continuation, Synchrony, Parallelism, Similarity, Focus points and Past experiences.

Kohler proposed the concept of insight learning, according to which learning consists of grasping of structural whole and not just a mechanical response stimulus.

Gestalt Therapy was introduced by Fritz Pearls and Laura Pearls in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It talks about integration between the ‘whole person’ with his or her environment.

There are many applications of Gestaltism including use in music, Education and learning, Visual arts, Advertisements and logos.