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10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization


Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

By Kendra Cherry | Reviewed by a board-certi ed physician
Updated July 21, 2017

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1. What Are the Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization?

illu / Moment / Getty Images

Have you ever noticed how a series of ashing lights often appears to be moving, such as neon signs or strands of Christmas
lights? According to Gestalt psychology, this apparent movement happens because our minds ll in missing information.
This belief that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts led to the discovery of several di erent phenomena
that occur during perception.

The law of closure is one example of a Gestalt law of perceptual organization. According to this principle, things in the
environment often tend to be seen as part of a whole. In many cases, our minds will even ll in the missing information to
create cohesive shapes. 1/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

Let's learn more about some of the Gestalt laws of perceptual organization.

A Brief History of the Gestalt Laws

Gestalt psychology was founded by German thinkers Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Ko ka and focused on
how people interpret the world. The Gestalt perspective formed partially as a response to the structuralism of Wilhelm
Wundt, who focused on breaking down mental events and experiences to the smallest elements.

Max Wertheimer noted that rapid sequences of perceptual events, such as rows of ashing lights, create the illusion of
motion even when there is none. This is known as the phi phenomenon. Motion pictures are based on this principle, with a
series of still images appearing in rapid succession to form a seamless visual experience.

According to Gestalt psychology, the whole is di erent from the sum of its parts. Based upon this belief, Gestalt
psychologists developed a set of principles to explain perceptual organization, or how smaller objects are grouped to form
larger ones. These principles are often referred to as the "laws of perceptual organization."

However, it is important to note that while Gestalt psychologists call these phenomena "laws," a more accurate term would
be "principles of perceptual organization." These principles are much like heuristics, which are mental shortcuts for solving

Follow the links below to nd more information and examples of the di erent Gestalt laws of perceptual organization. 2/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

2. Law of Similarity

Public Domain

The law of similarity suggests that things similar things tend to appear grouped together. Grouping can occur in both visual
and auditory stimuli. In the image above, for example, you probably see the groupings of colored circles as rows rather than
just a collection of dots. 3/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

3. Law of Pragnanz 4/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

Public Domain

The word pragnanz is a German term meaning "good gure." The law of Pragnanz is sometimes referred to as the law of
good gure or the law of simplicity. This law holds that objects in the environment are seen in a way that makes them
appear as simple as possible.

You see the image above as a series of overlapping circles rather than an assortment of curved, connected lines. 5/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

4. Law of Proximity 6/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

Public Domain

According to the law of proximity, things that are near each other seem to be grouped together. In the above image, the
circles on the left appear to be part of one grouping while those on the right appear to be part of another. Because the
objects are close to each other, we group them together.

5. Law of Continuity 7/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

Tobias Titz / Getty Images

The law of continuity holds that points that are connected by straight or curving lines are seen in a way that follows the
smoothest path. Rather than seeing separate lines and angles, lines are seen as belonging together.

6. Law of Closure 8/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

Public Domain

According to the law of closure, things are grouped together if they seem to complete some entity. Our brains often ignore
contradictory information and ll in gaps in information. In the image above, you probably see the shapes of a circle and
rectangle because your brain lls in the missing gaps in order to create a meaningful image.

7. The Law of Common Region

This Gestalt law of perceptual organization suggests that elements that are grouped together within the same region of
space tend to be grouped together. For example, imagine that there are three oval shapes drawn on a piece of paper with two
dots located at each end of the oval. The ovals are right next to each other so that the dot at the end of one oval is actually
closer to the dot at the end of a separate oval. Despite the proximity of the dots, the two that are inside each oval are
perceived as being a group rather than the dots that are actually closest to each other.

A Word From Verywell

The Gestalt laws of perceptual organization present a set of principles for understanding some of the ways in which
perception works. Recent research continues to o er insights into perception and how we see the world.

These principles of organization play a role in perception, but it is also important to remember that these principles can
sometimes lead to incorrect perceptions of the world. For example, imagine that you are out hiking in the woods one
afternoon when you spot what appears to be a moose behind a largetree. You immediately begin to leave the area to ensure
you don't disturb the animal, but as you are hiking around you realize that the "moose" behind the tree is actually just two
large broken tree stumps. Because of the Gestalt law of continuity, you perceived the two disconnected shapes as one
continuous object, which your brain then interpreted as a moose.

It is important to remember that while these principles are referred as a laws of perceptual organization, they are actually
heuristics, or short-cuts. Heuristics are usually designed for speed, which is why our perceptual systems sometimes makes 9/10
10/22/2017 Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization

mistakes and we experience perceptual inaccuracies.


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VisitSensation and Perception. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2010.
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Arkansas is the Cognitive
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Nevid, JS. Essentials of Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning; 2018.


What Is Gestalt Psychology?

By Kendra Cherry | Reviewed by a board-certi ed physician
Updated July 21, 2017

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Gary Waters / Ikon Images / Getty Images

Gestalt psychology is aschool of thoughtthat 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 component.

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. 10/10