Vision Res.(05) Gottschaldt

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)

Research into Visual Perception conducted by Gottschaldt

From the mid-1920s to the early 1940s the influence of past experience on human visual perception was a popular research area. Many investigators employed arrangements of simple two-dimensional geometrical shapes, sometimes alone and sometimes embedded in more complex forms.

A highly influential experimental study suggested by Wertheimer and conducted by Gottschaldt was published (in German) in the mid to late 1920s.

Gottschaldt used five simple geometrical figures which he called the ‘impression-series’, and thirty-one complex figures, the ‘test-series’. One of the simple figures was contained in an inconspicuous part of each of the complex figures. Three observers were shown each figure in the impression-series three times and asked to name and learn them. They were then shown each figure in the test-series and asked to verbally describe each. They were not told that the impression figures were contained in the test figures. A second group of (eight) observers followed the same procedure except that this (second) group were shown each figure in the impression-series 520 times. The observers’ experience was considered to vary with the number of times the impression-figures alone had each been displayed. The effectiveness of the experience was measured by the number of times a figure in the test-series was correctly described in terms of the impression-series figure contained within it.

Gottschaldt’s results indicated that the number of times a simple figure had been shown had no effect on it being seen in a complex figure. These results were used to argue that the effect of experience is less significant than the ‘belonging together’ of ‘natural wholes’. It has therefore been used to justify the Gestalt argument that complete forms, rather than the many individual sensations of colour and brightness which result from looking at them, are most important in determining the human perception of the scene, or object, viewed.

This work has been cited, discussed, and often described, by many subsequent authors including Braly.


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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