Vision Res.(03) Gestalt

Ways of Seeing Visual Perception: Physiology, Psychology and Ecology Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago History of Science & Medicine)
Ways of Seeing Visual Perception: Physiology, Psychology and Ecology Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago History of Science & Medicine)

Gestalt Psychology is concerned with the idea that human visual perception is determined by the whole, or complete, object in the field of view. This stands in contrast to the older, Elementalist, idea that perception of a single object consists of numerous discrete sensations.

Ernst Mach (1838-1916), a German physicist, is known for his contribution to the founding of the Gestalt school of psychology and may have been the first to recognise the significance of shape, or ‘form’ as it was then called, in perception. Mach considered spatial patterns, such as geometric figures, and temporal patterns, such as melodies, to be sensations.
He described these in his book, The Analysis of Sensations (1885), in which he suggested that these space-form and time-form sensations were independent of their elements :

In examining two figures which are alike but differently colored we recognize their sameness of form at first glance, in spite of the differences in color-sensation. The sight-perceptions, therefore, must contain some like sensation components. These are the space sensations which are the same in the two cases. ”

E.Mach, "Analysis of Sensations", 1897.

Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932) expanded Mach’s work, and suggested that there are qualities of experience that cannot be explained in terms of combinations of the traditional kinds of sensations. He called these qualities Gestalt qualitäten, which was translated into English as form qualities, and refers to perceptions based on something beyond the individual sensations. Mach and von Ehrenfels developed the ideas that came to be associated with Gestalt psychology. However, instead of opposing the established elementalist framework, as the Gestalt psychologists later did, they added the new element of "form". Although they criticized the same position as the Gestalt psychologists, they offered quite a different solution.

The formal movement known as Gestalt psychology resulted from a research study conducted in 1910 by the German psychologist Max Wertheimer (1880-1943). Wertheimer, who had studied under von Ehrenfels, later stated that “the most important impulse” for the movement came from von Ehrenfels.

Kurt Koffka (1886-1941) and Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967) served as subjects for Wertheimer's research problem, and together, Wertheimer, Koffka and Köhler have become known as the three major figures in the founding of the Gestalt movement. Many experiments investigating the extent to which human visual perception is dominated by the perception of whole objects followed.


This section includes summaries of historial research and theories of human visual perception of simple two-dimensional objects. For more about the human visual system see The Eye, Parts of Eye, Eye & Vision Disorders, Ophthalmological Procedures.

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