4/4/05

EARLY GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY

A. PRECURSORS OF GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY

1. IMMANUAL KANT, (1724-1804) .
Stress on unity of a perceptual act. When we perceive, we encounter mental states which might seem composed of bits and pieces (the associationists' and empiricists' sensory elements), but the mind forms or creates a unitary experience, rather than fashioning a percept through the mechanical process of association. This is a position contrary to the very heart of associationism.
 
2. HERMANN EBBINGHAUS (1850-1909). While not a precursor of Gestalt psychology itself, with his work more in the psychophysical tradition, Ebbinghaus was the first person to study MEMORY experimentally. He developed the method of studying nonsense syllables with the apparatus called the "memory drum." Most of his findings were not surprising -- better learning comes from a greater number of original learning trials, from a smaller interval between learning and relearning, from a smaller list of syllables, etc. He investigated the effects of spaced versus massed learning, finding that in general, active learning of spaced material is most effective. Meaningful material was much easier to learn than nonsense syllables. This was the first time a higher mental function was studied experimentally.
 
2. ERNST MACH (1838-1916)
a. In his writings of that time, the physicist Ernst Mach, whom we recognize in the terms "Mach 1," "Mach 2," etc. for the speed of sound, considered spatial patterns and temporal patterns (like melodies) as sensations. In his view, could consider these sensations independent of their elements. He pointed out that all science is based on experience. When natucal scientists observe and record natural events, they do so through their sensory experiences
b. .1n Analysis of Sensations (1886). Mach described properties of spatial and auditory forms. He concluded that sensations are organized in consciousness to create qualities of the form that may be novel. A table has a "form quality" that persists even when the sensations change. We look at a table from the side or top, but we still see it as a table.c. Similarly. shapes may be reduced in size or enlarged. shown in one part of field or another, their color changed, and they are still perceived as the same shape. German word "Gestalt" means shape. (Also implications of pattern, whole, configuration)
 
3. FRANZ BRENTANO (1828-1919)
BACKGROUND. Grandson of an italian Merchant. Did his dissertation in philosophy at U. of Tubingen, "On the Manifold Meaning of Being According to Aristotle." Became a priest but published a scholarly critique of the doctrine doctrine of Papal infallibility, criticized scholasticism, held a favorable attitude toward Compte's positivism,. and desired to marry. In 1870 the Church reaffirmed the doctrine of infallibilitty. Brentano had concluded that based on historical evidence the doctrine was imposssible to accept.
ACT PSYCHOLOGY. Became professor of philosophy at U. of Vienna. Disagreed with Wundt's view that psychology should study the content of conscious experience. Argued that psychology should study mental activity. The act of seeing rather than the content. The process or act of experiencing. It was called "act psychology" due to his belief that mental processes were aimed at performing some function (in this he was simialr to the Functionalists.) Mental acts he wished to study included judging, recalling, expecting, inferring, doubting, loving, and hoping. Considered the Wundtian method of introspection forced and highly artificial. Favored a less rigid, more direct observation of the experience as it occurred. Brentano hoped to use experience to construct a core of generally accepted truths.
CONCERNED WITH THE EXPERIMENTER EFFECT. Noticed that the very act of observing changes what is being observed. (Four of Brentano's students were Christian Von Ehrenfels, Carl Stumpf, Edmund Husserl, and Sigmund Freud, who took his nonmedical courses from Brentano.
 
3. CHRISTIAN VON EHRENFELS.(1859-1932) Extended Mach's work in Austria. A philosopher, musical composer and performer. and incidentally. an advocate of the legalization of polygamy. In the 1890's, he wrote a paper on "form qualities." "Gestalt qualitaten." A melody or a musical chord is still easily recognized when shifted up or down into another key even though every note is different. (Transposition.) Music consists of organized wholes that are almost disembodied from specific physical tones. (This formulation is still atomistic is saying that "form quality" is still another element different from the other elements. On this basis, some Gestaltists denied that Mach and Vohn Ehrenfels were their intellectual ancestors. (But Wertheimer attended Von Ehrenfels' lectures.)
 
5. CARL STUMPF (1848-1936).
a. Born in Bavaria, Stumpf stuadied with Brentano, Von Helmnoltz, and Weber. Had a strong musical background. Became department chair and a central figure at the University of Berlin. Studies of space perception and the perception of music.
b. PHENOMENOLOGY. Stumpf coined the tterm. Argued that the primary data of psychology are phenomena. Phenomenology, the psychology of introspection he favors, refers to the study of unbiased experience--experience just as it occurs. Argued that such phenomena as tones, colors, and images are either sensory or imatinary.
c. Also studied auditory attention, analysis, and comparison. Published his major work Tone Psychology.
d. Made observations of speech development in his own children as well as others and studied the orgins of childhood fears. Stressed the importance of directly observing children.
e. Was the first since the ancient Greeks to point out that the whole is different from the sum of its parts.
f. Debunked the "Clever Hans" horse that could do mathematics assertion. Discovered that Hans paid attention to body language cues from its handler to know what was the correct answer.
g. There was a bitter controversy raged between Wundt and Stumpf. Stumpf maintained that to break experience down into elements is to render it artificial and abstract. Wundt was very angry that Stumpf challenged his approach.
  
7. OSWALD KULPE. (1862-1915). A student of Muller and Wundt, and later founded THE WURZBURG SCHOOL.
a. Muller had drawn attention to the effects of what later came to be called "proactive interference"--old learning interfering with the effects of new learning.
b. Kulpe aimed to develop a scientific psyhchology that would include complex phenomena such as thinking, judging, remembering, and doubting. (Wundt believed that such phenomena were beyond the reach of experimental methods). At Wurzburg, in 1901, Kulpe's students A. Mayer and J. Orth questioned subjects about the associations that came freely into their mind during thinking. They reported complex, detailed associations. Their subjects reported many different patterns and types of associations.
c. Imageless thought. Kulpe refuted the idea that thought must have images.
d. Perceptual set or "mental set." Kulpe identified this determining tendency affecting what we perceive.
e. Max Wertheimer did his dissertion under Kulpe, on using word association technique in the determination of guilt in criminal cases.
f. Kulpe's student Marbe noticed that in the act of making judgments, various mental states occurred such as doubt, hesitation, and searching. Marbe called these conscious attitudes. Wunde's description of three basic elements of consciousness--sensations, images, and feelings, were insufficient to describe these complex experiences. They concluded that another dimension, meaning, was equally important.
g. Kulpe and Bryan found that when subjects were shown a series of numbers or letters, they were better at remembering what they had been told to pay attention to. They said that their instructions caused the letters to be "apprehended". (This was actually similar to Wundt's use of "apperception" for actively paying attention to something. This presaged work on attention that developed in the 1960s in America.
h. Another investigator at Wursburg, Narziss Ach, analysed the mental processes by which people make decisions and classified his subjects into different "decision types," finding that people used consistent strategies that were different from those that some others used.
 
8. EDGAR RUBIN (1886-1951)
a. Danish phenomenologist and contemporary of Wertheimer. Identified the "figure and ground" dynamic. Emphasized distinction between the figure (the substantial appearance of the object) and the ground (the general environment of the object.)
b. In 1819 he presented the first of the kinds of ambiguous figures that you see in almost every introductory psychology book, such as a white vase on a black background that can equally well be seen as two black heads looking at each other against a white background.
c. Perception is selective, he said. We don't just "see," we "look for" that which is related to our interests.
d. Pointed out that an object is perfectly flat and lies in the same physical plane as its environment, we perceive it as located in front of its environment.
 
9. EDMUND HUSSERL (1859-1938)
a. Often referred to as the "father of phenomenology," even though Stumpf coined the term. Studied with Brentano and then worked with Stumpf.
b. Pointed out that Brentano's concept of intentionality deals only with mental acts directed at something outside themselves. But there is also the knowledge that comes through turning our attention inward. Husserl used introspection to examine subjective experience as it occurs, without relating it to anything else. He called the latter pure phenomenology. When "phenomenon" describes a mental event, it means a whole, intact, meaningful experience rather than fragments of conscious experience.
c. The methods of the natural sciences are inappropriate for studying mental phenomena, held Husserl, in the first clear statement of what later came to be called the "human science" approach. Did not deny that an experimental psychology was possible, but said it must be preceded by careful phenomenological analysis. Phenomenology, he held, could help psychology clarify the implicit asssumptions and preconceptions that guide its investigations.

Brentano, Stumpf, & Husserl all held that psychology's proper subject matter is intact, meaningful, psychological experience. This set the stage for the appearance of Gestalt psychology proper.

B. THE BIG THREE: WERTHEIMER, KOHLER, AND KOFFKA

"Three of Carl Stumpf's students," writes Phil Brownell, ". . . were among those to developedthe school of Gestalt psychology and believed that people do not experience life in isolated pieces. The German word for the perception of intact configurations is "gestalt," accordingly the study of these wholes became known as Gestalt psychology. It was fundamentally linked to phenomenology, because these early Gestalt psychologists preferred to study the mental experience as it naturally occurred to the observer, without further analysis or interpretation." Students from Germany have pointed out to me that in German, "gestalt" is not only a noun but also a verb. One can go in and "gestalt" a situation--that is, try to grasp it both as a whole and in terms of its constituent details to get the fullest possible sense of what is going on there.

1. MAX WERTHEIMER --founder of "Gestalt Psychology" as such. (1880-1943) Wertheimer's personality was very muçh tied up in the movement. Can't fully understnd Gestalt psychology without knowing Wertheimer. Wertheimer listened to Von Ehrenfels' lectures at the University of Vienna. He noted that the qualities of which von Ehrenfels spoke were characteristics of wholes. For instance "major" and "minor" in music are characteristics of phrases rather than of individual tones.Wertheimer asked: Why are there. both in space and time, such molar entities?
PROXIMITY, (tap tap, pause, tap tap)
SIMILARITY, soft and loud tones
CLOSURE tendency to complete a figure. Looking for a hidden face in picture--later Zeigarnik's work on paying the bill.
PRAGNANZ or "GOOD FORM." The most general of configurational laws. The principle that all experienced fields tend to become as clearly and fully articlated as possible.
SYMMETRY, REGULARITY(In social psychological studies of rumor, these have been observed to take the form of "leveling, sharpening, assimilation.") By 1933 Harry Helson had isolated 114 separate laws of Gestalt organization.
 
PAUL SCHILLER's (1951) chimpanzee Alpha. Circle with wedge missing: squares in circle with some missing. Alpha would fill in open space, missing squares. In humans, doing poorly on perceptual closure tasks has been found to be associated with right hemisphere impairment.
 
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(DESCRIBE RELATION TO HARRY HELSON AND ADAPTATION LEVEL)
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2. KURT KOFFKA. Ph.D from Stumpf
KOHLER. Also Ph.D. from Stumpf.
Much more the scientist than Wertheimer.
Chickens: Shades of gray paper. Sizes of paper.
Chimps: Looking for hidden studk. Moving box under banana to jump up.
The Mentality of Apes. Animals when faced with problem-solving situations behave much more meaningfully than behaviorists say. From Koher's point of view, the Ape is sitting in a corner looking for relationships which will lead to a solution.

KOHLER'S APES. Worked with chimps at Tenerife in the Canary Islands off African coast. in 1914 during WWI. In 1924, published The Mentalitv of Apes. The apes sometimes made simple inventions. Like Sultan. With a banana suspended too high to reach, he found a box in another part of the room, moved it over beneath the banana, and then jumped up from the box to get the banana. But less intelligent apes often were unable to repeat the action which their brighter companion had Just performed before their eyes. Rana could not imitate Sultan. She realized that the box was important, and jumped up repeatedly from its surface, but without first moving it into the right position beneath the banana. Once she stood on it in a jumping posture, then ran over under the banana and iumped as high as she could, as if trying to connect the box and banana by sheer speed. Later approached box, moved it in one direction & then another. at last gave up and sitting on box. Iooked sadly at distant banana. The crucial relationship which Sultan grasped: move the box toward the banana and then stand on it.

In 1922 Kohler moved to Berlin succeeding Carl Stumpf as director of Berlin Psychological Institute. While there, he courageously spoke out against the Nazis in his lectures, under circumstances where other who opposed them suddenly disappeared. Ultimately, however, he had to flee the country.

BUS, BATH, AND BED. Kohler observed that the solution of problems is often suddenly presented to us when we are not actively concerned with them. otten when our eagerness to do mental work is very small. A Scottish physicist once told Kohler that British physicists recognize this. often talking about the three Bs -- "the Bus, the Bath. and the Bed. That~s where the great discoveries are made in our science."

1. Concept of Thinking defined as looking for and grasping relationships.
2. Organisms will engage in random, diffused, meaningless behavior ONLY IF RELATIONSHIPS IN THE ENVIRONMENT ARE OBSCURED.
3. Ehrenfreund (not a Gestaltist). Made a raised rat maze where the rat could see where it was going. Even if "go to the right" had been stamped in by repeated trials, if the food was on the left, it went right to it.
Thus trial and error learning occurred only if the rat was not allowed to see the whole field.
4. FOR HUMAN LEARNING
a. Teach children to "discover" relationships by giving them all the data --or simply have them rote learn in a piecemeal fashion. BANK STREET SCHOOL in N.Y. tried to teach this way, on the basis of children teaching themselves principles.
b. EMPHASIS ON SELF-DISCOVERY. Gestaltists have emphasized the problem-solving aspect of behavior. Spreading before the learner all the aspects of the situation--all the data.
c.In learning, we should encourage this tendency to seek conclusions. Give the learner the situation, the data -- he will use it by finding a solution to the problem.
d. To the behaviorist, the organism is a passive receptacle into which we pour stimuli and rewards.
To the Gestaltist, present the organism with "problems crying for a solution."
5. Behaviorism is a "historical" school in the sense that past experience is emphasized. Psychoanalysis is also a "historical" school. Thbis is what they have in common. Gestalt is labelled an a-historical or field-theoretical school. What are the meaningful situations and stimuli in life now? Existentialists hold a similar idea.
Gestaltists concede that conditioning exists, because it is a function of the field.
6. We can teach children to be stupid and mechanical by drumming things into them, or we can open up perceptual doors.
7. There is a built-in satisfaction in problem-solving alone. Don't need a cookie as a reward. Monkeys take apart and p¨t together mechanical puzzles with no reward other than being able to do it.
8. Kohler tried to lead Gestalt psychology into physiology. In order to understand perceptual processes. we must study neurophysiological processes in the brain.
Our own internal functioning, as well as external stimuli, is meaningfully organized.

C. ADDITIONAL NOTES ON THE GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY OF PERCEPTION AND LEARNING

D. LATER DEVELOPMENTS
 
EDWARD CHACE TOLMAN was an engineer-turned psychologist who studied Gestalt psychology in Germany and then returned to the United States and incomporated such concepts as purpose and expectancy into his behaviorally oriented whit rat research.
 
KURT GOLDSTEIN was a physiological psychologist trained in Gestalt psychology. He studied brain-injured patients in the first world war, and his "Organismic Psychology" was quite influential for a time. .
 
KURT LEWIN applied the Gestalt perspective to personality theory and social phenomena in his "Field Theory." He was the central influence in the development of psychological social psychology (as contrasted to sociological social psychology) in the U.S.
 
FRITZ PERLS, one of Goldstein's research assistants was a young psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist who, along with his wife Lore who studied Gestalt Psychology in Frankfurt, was later to found Gestalt Therapy, which kept the Gestalt perspective alive when it would have probably otherwise faded into being a fossil in the history books
 
Very recently (2003) STEVEN LEHAR at Harvard and the Schepens eye institute published The World in Your Head: A Gestalt View of the Mechanism of Conscious Experience. It brings together Gestalt theory, phenomenology, physiological psychology, and experimental procedures that are both painstaking and very clever in a model of visual perception. I suspect that it may become a profoundly influential work.
 
Links to original sources in Gestalt Psychology
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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