Gestalt Theory: Laws and Fundamental Principles

the Gestalt theory it is a concept that will surely resonate with you if you are one of those curious people in the world of psychology. It is a theory widely used today in psychotherapy and problem solving, but it has also become popular as one of the most attractive psychological approaches to those who believe in the way human beings are, behave and behave. feel. it cannot be reduced only to what is directly observable or measurable.

However, if you’ve read anything about Gestalt theory, you’ll also know that it’s not renowned for being easily summed up in one sentence. theirs philosophical foundations and laws how we perceive things have their roots in years and years of research, and their formulations about the human mind are not always intuitive.

This is why to fully understand the theory of Gestalt, a small change of mentality is necessary, and nothing better to achieve it than learn in which direction your approach is oriented and what are its principles.

Gestalt theory and its humanist influences

the gestaltism it can be framed within the larger framework of humanistic psychology, as it emphasizes the subjective experiences of each person, gives importance to the positive aspects of psychology such as self-realization and the search for good decisions, and works with a conception of the human being as an agent capable of developing freely and autonomously.

This means that it does not focus on the negative aspects of the mind, as is the case with certain types of psychoanalysis, nor does it limit its object of study to the observable behavior of people, as it does to behaviorism. .

A little history on the Gestalt

Gestalt theory appeared at the beginning of the 20th century in Germany in reaction to behavioral psychology, Who rejected taking into account subjective states of consciousness when investigating people’s behavior and he underlined the effects that the family context, and by extension social and cultural, has on us. Unlike behaviorists, researchers who adhered to Gestalt theory were primarily interested in the study of mental processes that at the time were considered fundamentally invisible, there were no tools for him to know this. that was going on in the brain.

In this way, Gestalt theory brings us closer to a conception of the human being characterized by his active role in the perception of reality and in decision-making. According to the Gestaltists, we all believe in our minds more or less coherent images of ourselves and what surrounds usAnd these images are not the simple union of the sequences of information reaching us through our senses, but rather more.

Construct reality and interpret

The German word Gestalt, often translated into Spanish as “form”, it represents this process by which we build frames of perception of reality: Everyone interprets reality and makes decisions about it based on these mental “shapes” or “figures” that we create without realizing it. Gestalt theory focuses on explaining how we perceive things and make decisions based on the “forms” we have created.

Gestalt theory and the concept of “form”

Some schools of psychology view the mental representations that are created in our consciousness as the sum of pieces of image, sound, touch, and memory. In this way, all of these packets of information coming from the senses would be added to our brain and from this superposition of units would appear what we are experiencing.

Gestalt theory, however, it denies that there is a perceptual “whole” which is made up of the set of data that reaches our body. On the contrary, he proposes that what we experience is more than the sum of the parts, and that there therefore exists as a whole, a figure which can only be considered as whole. So what is happening is that all of our mental “forms” are imposed on what comes to us through the senses, not the other way around.

According to this approach, we learn what surrounds us not by adding together all the information that reaches us through the senses, but from the “figures” that are created in our mind. For example, from the Gestalt theory used in Gestalt therapy created by Fritz Perls (which is not exactly the same as Gestalt psychology, older than this one), forms of psychotherapy are proposed. in which the aim is for the patient to be able to understand certain problems in a global sense that it is different from what it did before and that it allows you to develop your potentialities.

Thus, according to Gestalt theory, people are not the recipients of various sensations, but our minds are made up of different totalities. For Gestaltists, it is not necessary to focus on the pieces that our mental figures seem to form on anything to resolve a conflict or adopt a more useful mindset, but what to look for is reach a structural understanding news of what is happening.

Examples to understand the idea of ​​”form”

An example of this can be found at movies. Although it is a succession of photographs which pass quickly, one perceives them as something very different: a sequence of moving images.

Although this quality (movement) is not present in the different images, what we experience is a wholeness that has this property. From the point of view of Gestalt theory, this is so because we have created global shapes on the reality around us, rather than just passively receiving information that comes to it from everywhere and reacting accordingly.

The same is clearly stated when we see these optical illusions in which two or more superimposed images appear but we cannot see more than one at a time: the entire figure seems to capture our senses.

Laws of Gestalt

In Gestalt theory, laws have been formulated that explain the principles by which, depending on the context in which we find ourselves, we perceive certain things and not others. These are the laws of Gestalt, initially proposed by the psychologist Max Wertheimer, The ideas were developed and reinforced by Wolfgang kohler (In the picture) i Kurt koffka.

The most important law that gives us a better idea of ​​the logic that governs the generation of perceptions as a whole is the law of good formAccording to which what we perceive with more precision and speed, it is these more complete forms but at the same time more simple or symmetrical.

More Gestalt Laws and Principles

The other laws of Gestalt theory are:

  • The law of figure-ground: We cannot perceive the same shape as a figure and at the same time as the background of this figure. The background is anything that is not perceived as a figure.

  • Law of continuity: If several elements seem to be placed forming a flow oriented towards one place, they will be perceived as a whole.

  • Proximity law: Items that are close to each other tend to be seen as part of a unit.

  • Law of similars: Similar elements are perceived to have the same shape.

  • The law of closure: A shape is perceived better, the more its outline is closed.

  • Completion law: An open form tends to be perceived as closed.

What are these “shapes” like according to Gestalt theory?

The forms being a whole, they do not can be reduced to one direction. This means for Gestaltists a mental image is not really a visual imageLike the one that can happen when projecting light onto a retina, but that’s something else. So much so that, for followers of Gestalt theory, the laws of Gestalt do not apply only to what is perceived through sight, although they are usually only illustrated by drawings and icons. . It is not difficult to imagine examples in which the laws of Gestalt seem to apply to all kinds of perceptions.

In short, the Gestalt theory offers a psychological approach in which the person has an active role in the construction of the units of meaning on their experiences and that in addition, they are able to restructure their mental “forms” to adopt more useful points of view and better orient both their decision-making and their objectives.

Fritz Perls and Gestalt Therapy

Fritz Perls, According to most of the postulates of Gestalt psychology, he developed his own therapy: the Therapy figure. We invite you to know them through these two articles:

  • “Biography of Fritz Perls and his contributions to psychology”

  • “Gestalt Therapy: What is it and on what principles is it based?”

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