Sunday, 19 April 2009

Gestalt & Perception

'All 'Things are not what they seem. The ability to work out what is really happening with a person is simple- not easy, but simple. It’s about matching what you see and hear to the environment in which it all happens and drawing possible conclusions. Most people, however, only see the things they think they are seeing. Perception.’ (Pease 2005).

Perception – ‘The process by which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world around them. Though necessarily based on incomplete and unverified (or unreliable) information, perception is 'the reality' and guides human behaviour in general.’ (Business dictionary 2008).

Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of sensory information. Perception is one of the oldest fields in psychology. The study of perception gave rise to the Gestalt school of psychology, which has a slight emphasis on holistic approach. There is research into perception of all the senses which originate from the thoughts of psychologists in the 1900’s. There is still very much a base of research into perception, for example, recent touch perception researchers Robles-De-La-Torre & Hayward (2001) found that kinaesthesia based ‘haptic’ perception strongly relies on the forces experienced during touch. The main school of thought into perception is the Gestalt school. It is well established and respected. In some scholarly communities, for example, cognitive psychology, Gestalt theories of perception are criticised for being ‘descriptive’ rather than ‘explanatory’ in nature. For this reason, they are viewed by some as redundant or uninformative. For example, Bruce, Green & Georgeson (1996) conclude the following regarding Gestalt theory's influence on the study of visual perception:

"The physiological theory of the Gestaltists has fallen by the wayside, leaving us with a set of descriptive principles, but without a model of perceptual processing. Indeed, some of their "laws" of perceptual organisation today sound vague and inadequate. What is meant by a "good" or "simple" shape, for example?" (Bruce, Green & Georgeson 1996).

In other fields, such as perceptual psychology, Gestalt principles continue to be used and discussed today as a predictive model of human behaviour. Many of the principles that govern human visual perception today were first identified by the German ‘school’ of Gestalt psychology. As Dodwell (1995) has observed, ‘To perceive seems effortless. To understand perception is nevertheless a great challenge.’ (Dodwell 1995).
Ehrenfels (1890) was a key theorist in the Gestalt school. He claimed that many groups of stimuli acquire a pattern quality that is greater than the sum of their parts. A square, for example, ‘is more than a simple assembly of lines, it has ‘squareness’.’ (Ehrenfels 1890).

The Gestaltists believed that the first perceptual task when confronted with an object is to recognise it. To do this, we must perceive the figure as being distinct from its surroundings. A figure’s familiarity can help determine whether it’s perceived as a figure or shape. Even unfamiliar and meaningless ‘blobs’ can be perceived as recognisable objects.
Gestalt psychologist Ehrenfels (1890) had a theory on ‘closure’; it was that elements appearing close together in space or time tend to be perceived together. One example is below.

According to Ehrenfels, people will perceive this circle of dots to form a large circle as they are in such close proximity, even though there are many spaces between them. An auditory example would be the perception of a series of musical notes as a melody, because they occur soon after one another in time. Gestalt theorists believed that closed figures are perceived more easily than incomplete ones. So, we often supply missing information to close a figure and separate it from its background. By filling in the gaps, Ehrenfel believed that ‘men and women alike will see a circle’. (Ehrenfel 1890). This principle ‘explains why most of us have no trouble reading a neon sign, even if one or two of its letters are burned out.’ (Solomon 2006). An example of active involvement with the principle of Gestalt’s theory of closure is the J&B ‘ ingle ells’ advert which completely illustrates the use of the principle of closure, in which people participate in the advert by mentally filling in the gaps. We are solely capable of doing this by previous knowledge. This is an empiricist view.

1 comment:

Ruth Hickmott said...

Wow - you decided to get going on this properly then?