Gestalt Principles of Organization

Gestalt principles of organization are those principles or laws of Gestalt psychology that identify factors leading to a particular form of perceptual organization; the term also refers to a rule or law concerning a natural phenomenon or function of a complex system.

The Gestalt principles of organization, also referred to as the Gestalt laws of perceptual organization, were proposed by early twentieth-century German psychologists of the Gestalt school. These principles arose from research exploring the effects of holistic patterns or configurations of human perception. Gestalt can be translated as the “unified whole,” corresponding to the emphasis of Gestalt psychology on the concept that the whole affects the way in which parts are perceived, or “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

Emphasis on the unified whole began to reveal patterns of perception as the human mind interpreted various phenomena. While investigating the phenomenon of apparent motion perception on which motion pictures are based, Gestalt psychologists discovered that when two lights are flashed in succession under specific conditions, an illusion of continuous motion is produced. The subject perceives a single light that appears to move from the position of the first light to the position of the second light. This and other experiments led the Gestalt psychologists to conclude that the mind imposes its own patterns of organization on the stimuli it receives rather than merely recording them and that the significance of the mental wholes thus formed transcends that of their component parts. This belief led to the discovery of several different phenomena that occur during perception, forming the basis of the principles of organization.


Apparent motion perception—
The process of inferring the speed and direction of elements in a scene on the basis of other cues.
Cortical learning algorithm—
A structured learning system within the hierarchical temporal memory consisting of highly interconnected cortical columns that form a receptive field in the neocortex of the brain.
Perceptual set—
A tendency for individuals to view something in a particular way.
Stimulus field—
An energy field registered by the senses and, in perceptual psychology, the basis of perceptions and behavior.

Modern Gestaltists have subjected the laws of grouping to advanced methods of scientific evaluation such as examining the visual cortex using cortical learning algorithms. Study results have demonstrated correlations between physical visual representations of objects and self-reported perceptions and termed this the Law of Seeing.

Gestalt psychology is useful in understanding the facets of mental ability to acquire meaningful perceptions in a world full of stimuli. The common denominator in the Gestalt principles of organization is the effect of the whole on perceptions of the parts or the unified whole. As such, these principles have helped psychologists understand that perception is not simply seeing the world as it is, but how humans are influenced by the acquisition of information as well as how they interpret it to form their view of the world.

See also Gestalt psychology ; Phenomenology .



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Wagemans, Johan, et al. “A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perception I, Perceptual Grouping and Figure-Ground Organization.” Psychology Bulletin 138 (November 2012): 1172–1217.