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Gestalt psychology

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-W014-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

The term ‘Gestalt’ was introduced into psychology by the Austrian philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels. ‘Gestalt’, in colloquial German, means ‘shape’ or ‘structure’. Ehrenfels demonstrates in his essay of 1890 that there are certain inherently structural features of experience that must be acknowledged in addition to simple tones, colours and other mental ‘atoms’ or ‘elements’ if we are to do justice to the objects towards which perception, memory and abstract thinking are directed. His essay initiated a reaction against the then still dominant atomism in psychology, a reaction that led in turn to the ideas on ‘cerebral integration’ of the so-called Berlin school of Gestalt psychology and thence to contemporary investigations of ‘neural networks’ in cognitive science. Many of the specific empirical facts discovered by the Gestaltists about the perception of movement and contour, about perceptual constancy and perceptual illusions, and about the role of ‘good form’ in perception and memory have been absorbed into psychology as a whole.

Citing this article:
Smith, Barry. Gestalt psychology, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-W014-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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