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Gestalt Theory

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Gestalt Theory was first introduced by Christian von Ehrenfels.  This Austrian philosopher born in 1859 and dying in 1932, conducted most of his work in the 1880’s and 1890’s. German theorists; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Ernst Mach were the first psychologists to systematically study perceptual organization during the 1920’s (Green & Georgeson, 1996). The research work of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Koffka, and Kurt Lewin helped to support the Gestalt Theory (Green & Georgeson, 1996). 

A key concept of the Gestalt Theory is that what is ‘seen’ is what appears to the seer and not what may actually be there. In other words, the conscious experience must be considered by taking into account all the physical and mental aspects of the individual simultaneously (Green & Georgeson, 1996).

Another key concept of the Gestalt Theory is that the nature of a unified whole is not understood by analyzing its parts.  Czech psychologist, Max Wertheimer's unique contribution was to insist that the "Gestalt" is perceptually primary, defining the parts of which it was composed, rather than being a secondary quality that emerges from those parts (Hothersall, 2004). For example, Ehnrenfels pointed out that something enables us to recognize a melody, even when it is played in a new key - the sum of the elements is different, yet the melody is the same.  In another example, a man’s actions are not only a result of his own ego – only under special circumstances does a group of people constitute a mere-sum of independent Egos (Schulte, 1938).

A third key concept of the Gestalt Theory is that learning is a reorganizing of a whole situation using insight.  This concept contrasts the behavioral psychology view that learning consists of an association between stimuli and responses.

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