Along with Kohler and Koffka, Max Wertheimer
was one of the principal proponents of Gestalt theory which emphasized
higher-order cognitive processes in the midst of behaviorism. The focus of
Gestalt theory was the ideas of “grouping”, i.e., characteristics
of stimuli cause us to structure or interpret a visual field or problem in a
The primary factors that determine grouping were:
- elements tend to be grouped together according to their nearness,
- items similar in some respect tend to be grouped together,
- items are grouped together if they tend to complete some entity, and
- items will be organized into simple figures according to symmetry,
regularity, and smoothness.
These factors were called the laws of organization and were explained
in the context of perception and problem-solving.
Wertheimer was especially concerned with problem-solving. Werthiemer (1959) provides a Gestalt interpretation of
problem-solving episodes of famous scientists (e.g., Galileo, Einstein) as well
as children presented with mathematical problems. The essence of successful
problem-solving behavior according to Wertheimer is
being able to see the overall structure of the problem: A certain region
in the field becomes crucial, is focused; but it does not become isolated. A
new, deeper structural view of the situation develops, involving changes in
functional meaning, the grouping, etc. of the items. Directed by what is
required by the structure of a situation for a crucial region, one is led to a
reasonable prediction, which like the other parts of the structure, calls for
verification, direct or indirect. Two directions are involved: getting a whole
consistent picture, and seeing what the structure of the whole requires for the
Scope/Application: Gestalt theory applies to all aspects of human
learning, although it applies most directly to perception and problem-solving.
The work of Gibson was strongly influenced by Gestalt theory.
The classic example of Gestalt principles provided by Wertheimer is
children finding the area of parallelograms. As long as the parallelograms are
regular figures, a standard procedure can be applied (making lines
perpendicular from the corners of the base). However, if a parallelogram with a
novel shape or orientation is provided, the standard procedure will not work
and children are forced to solve the problem by understanding the true
structure of a parallelogram (i.e., the figure can be bisected anywhere if the
ends are joined).
1. The learner should be
encouraged to discover the underlying nature of a topic or problem (i.e., the
relationship among the elements).
2. Gaps, incongruities, or
disturbances are an important stimulus for learning
3. Instruction should be
based upon the laws of organization: proximity, closure, similarity and