MCAT Content / Perception / Gestalt Principles

Gestalt Principles

Topic: Perception

The Gestalt laws of grouping are a set of principles in psychology that explain how humans naturally perceive stimuli as organized patterns and objects.

After the brain has decided which of the millions of stimuli it will attend to, it needs to organize the information that it has taken in. Organization is the process by which we mentally arrange the information we’ve just attended to in order to make sense of it; we turn it into meaningful and digestible patterns. Below is a discussion of some of the different ways we organize stimuli.

The Gestalt laws of grouping is a set of principles in psychology first proposed by Gestalt psychologists to explain how humans naturally perceive stimuli as organized patterns and objects. Gestalt psychology says that our brain groups elements together whenever possible instead of keeping them as separate elements.

A few of these laws of grouping include the laws of proximity, continuity, similarity, and closure and the figure-ground law.

The Law of Proximity posits that when we perceive a collection of objects, we will perceptually group objects that are physically close to each other. This allows for the grouping together of elements into larger sets and reduces the need to process a larger number of smaller stimuli. For this reason, people tend to see clusters of dots on a page instead of a large number of individual dots. The brain groups together the elements instead of processing a large number of smaller stimuli, allowing us to understand and conceptualize information more quickly.

The Law of Similarity states that people will perceive similar elements will be perceptually grouped. This allows us to distinguish between adjacent and overlapping objects based on their visual texture and resemblance.

The Figure-Ground Law posits that a visual field can be separated into two distinct regions: the figures (prominent objects) and the ground (the objects that recede into the background. Many optical illusions play on this perceptual tendency.

The Law of Closure explains that our perception will complete incomplete objects, such as the lines of the IBM logo.

The Law of Continuity explains that lines are seen as following the smoothest path.

 

Practice Questions

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MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

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Sample Test P/S Section Question 44


Key Points

• Organization, the second stage of the perceptual process, is how we mentally arrange information into meaningful and digestible patterns.

• While our tendency to group stimuli helps us to organize our sensations quickly and efficiently, it can also lead to misguided perceptions.

• Gestalt psychology says that our brain groups elements together whenever possible instead of keeping them as separate elements.


Key Terms

Gestalt Laws of Grouping: A set of principles in psychology that explains how humans naturally perceive stimuli as organized patterns and objects.

organization: The second stage of the perceptual process; the process through which we mentally arrange information into meaningful and digestible patterns.



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