Gestalt Principles: AP® Psychology Crash Course | (2023)

Within the AP® Psychology section of perception are the multifaceted principles of Gestalt. Gestalt principles are the different ways individuals group stimuli together in order to make a whole that makes sense to them. These principles are divided up into five categories: proximity, similarity, continuity, connectedness, and closure. By perceiving objects as well as the world around us we reflect these Gestalt principles. In this AP® Psychology review, we will cover these aspects of the Gestalt and apply them to the AP® exam to get you that 5 you are looking for.


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The Gestalt principle of proximity is when an individual perceives several objects that are close together as belonging together. An example of this is in the picture above. In the picture the dots are all the same color, size, and shape. The only reason that we perceive two different blocks of dots is because of their position, and how close they are to each other. If these dots were to be miles and miles apart, then we would not perceive them as being a group.


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If proximity is due to position, then the Gestalt principle of similarity is how we piece information together by how similar objects are. For example, if there were five dogs of all different breeds and five cats of different breeds, then we would group them as cats and dogs. Here, positions do not matter, because we are looking into how similar the objects are to each other.

Another example is the picture above. When looking at these dots one would say that there are two groups. There are white dots and there are blue dots. We perceive these two groups as such, because they have the same shape. The only difference we see is in similarity, or in this case, the color. If all of the dots were blue, then we would say that there was one group of blue dots.


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The third Gestalt principle is continuity. Continuity is that our brains tend to see objects as continuous or smooth rather than disjointed or discontinuous. A great example of this phenomenon is a movie. Movies are just millions of pictures put together and flipped through at a fast rate. Your brain brings all of these pictures, these disjointed pictures, together into one cohesive, smooth unit.

Another great example of continuity is music. Music is individual notes that are strung together. Our brains bring those notes together into one smooth unit through continuity.


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Connectedness is the fourth principle of the Gestalt principles. Connectedness is when we see connections in disjointed objects. One example of this is when you can see the image that will be made on a connect the dots picture before you connect the dots. For example, when people find constellations in the sky they see a picture made up of dots.

Another example of connectedness is a mosaic. A mosaic is made up of tiny broken pieces of glass or tile that are all put together in a collage to make a new, unified whole.


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Closure is the final Gestalt principle. Closure is when individuals fill in the blanks. This means that the brain sees the big picture even when an element of that picture may be missing. An example of this is in the alphabet.

You may not have noticed that some letters weremissing (see image above), because your brain knows what that sequence of letters is supposed to look like, and you perceived that the missing letters were there.

Another example of the Gestalt principle of closure is seen in the picture to the left. While these roughly drawn shapes are not finished, we can perceive that these shapes are a circle and a rectangle. Our ability to see closure with almost finished objects fills in the missing information.

This idea was used on the AP® Psychology free response question on the 2011 AP® Psych exam. The question can be seen here. Within this case study the participants had to complete an incomplete figure as well as to tell what was happening and the expected result of the experiment. This FRQ relates to the idea of closure, because the case study should be able to finish the incomplete figures.

Why are These Principles of Gestalt Important?

The principles of Gestalt are extremely important in that they dictate how we perceive life. Life is just a giant whirlwind of stimuli, and to make sense of these stimuli we must group them together. For example, people do not need to examine every brick on the house to determine that it is a house. Here we have grouped the bricks together to realize that that was a wall. Then, we group together those walls to make a house. If there are other houses next to it, then we group those houses into a development. Multiple developments are then grouped into a community. Grouping of stimuli allows us to make sense of the world so that we do not have to focus on the tiny details.

Why Are the Gestalt Principles Important for the AP® Psychology Exam?

Applying the AP® Psychology material, such as the Gestalt principles, is essential for a high score on the AP® Psychology exam. Gestalt principles are a vital portion of the free response question portion of the exam in particular, because examiners love to see application of ideas. The free response question that would include the application of the Gestalt principles would include a scenario of perception. Here the students would be given a scenario in which an individual would see something, and then the student must give the Gestalt principles that explain why the individual perceived this.

Free response questions are worth a large percentage of the AP® Psychology exam; therefore, it is essential that the student looks over the Gestalt principles of perception and be able to apply these ideas to real life examples.

Let’s put everything into practice. Try this AP® Psychologypractice question:

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What are the 5 principles of Gestalt psychology explain each? ›

The classic principles of the gestalt theory of visual perception include similarity, continuation, closure, proximity, figure/ground, and symmetry & order (also known as prägnanz). Others, such as “common fate,” have been added in recent years.

What are the 10 principles of Gestalt psychology? ›

There are ten primary Gestalt principles: simplicity, figure-ground, proximity, similarity, common fate, symmetry, continuity, closure, common region, and element connectedness.

Why was Gestalt psychology rejected? ›

Grounded in anti-atomism, Gestalt assumed organizing forces intrinsic to perception. Insofar these were identified with singularity preference, Gestalt is criticized for having failed to distinguish between perception and thought.

What is Gestalt psychology AP Psych? ›

Definition. 1 / 52. Gestalt psychology is the study of how our mind pieces together various pieces of information to create a meaningful whole. There's an emphasizes that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

What are the 5 principles of Gestalt quizlet? ›

Closure, Continuity, Proximity, Similarity, and simplicity are the 5 grouping principles of gestalt psychology, humans naturally perceive objects as organized patterns and objects.

What are the 9 gestalt principles? ›

We will be discussing 10 Gestalt principles: connectedness, common region, figure and ground, symmetry, focal point, similarity, closure, continuity, proximity, and common fate.

What is an example of Gestalt psychology in daily life? ›

Another principle of Gestalt Psychology is the principle of common fate. When the human eye sees elements moving together in a certain direction, they are usually perceived as a group. An example of a common fate is when we see children heading to the playground, which can make us perceive them as a whole.

What is the problem with Gestalt theory? ›

The problem that gestalt theory confronts is that of an extended event, whether an experience or an action, that cannot be adequately described as a sum of smaller, independent events.

What is the weakness of Gestalt theory? ›

Two potential weaknesses of gestalt therapy are that it requires a therapist to have a high degree of personal development and knowledge and it only focuses on the present.

What is a criticism of Gestalt psychology? ›

being too descriptive instead of offering explanations and models for described phenomena, investigating subjective experiences like perception, lack of precision in descriptions and just qualitative description, denying the basic scientific approach of understanding a whole as a set of its parts.

What is Gestalt psychology short summary? ›

Gestalt psychology is a school of thought that looks at the human mind and behavior as a whole. When trying to make sense of the world around us, Gestalt psychology suggests that we do not simply focus on every small component. Instead, our minds tend to perceive objects as elements of more complex systems.

What is the main goal of Gestalt psychology theory? ›

The goal of Gestalt therapy is to teach people to become aware of significant sensations within themselves and their environment so that they respond fully and reasonably to situations.

What does Gestalt psychology primarily focus on? ›

Gestalt psychology is a school of thought that seeks to understand how the human brain perceives experiences. It suggests that structures, perceived as a whole, have specific properties that are different from the sum of their individual parts.

What is Gestalt theory of learning examples? ›

Views on Gestalt theory of learning

For example, if one person decided to stay indoors all day they're going to have a different experience than someone who went outside that same day because they'll encounter different stimuli during the two days.

What are five 5 rules proposed by Gestalt theorists that humans follow for grouping stimuli? ›

Gestalt psychologists argued that these principles exist because the mind has an innate disposition to perceive patterns in the stimulus based on certain rules. These principles are organized into five categories: Proximity, Similarity, Continuity, Closure, and Connectedness.

What are two of the Gestalt principles of perception list and briefly describe? ›

Gestalt principles such as figure-ground relationship, grouping by proximity or similarity, the law of good continuation, and closure are all used to help explain how we organize sensory information. Our perceptions are not infallible, and they can be influenced by bias, prejudice, and other factors.

What are the 5 Gestalt principles in logo? ›

Gestalt, meaning “the unified whole,” is represented by the principles of proximity, closure, continuity, similarity, and multi-stability. Your brain is subconsciously guided by these principles while observing the world around you, and businesses can use this to make their logo memorable.

What is Gestalt psychology PDF? ›

Abstract. Gestalt psychologists emphasized the study of consciousness, like structuralist psychologists who used controlled introspection in sensory experiments. However, they emphasized that both perceived forms (Gestalten) and the experienced world are already structured wholes.

How do we use gestalt principles everyday? ›

Perceiving objects that are similar to be part of a group or pattern. You can see similarity being used in Van Gogh's “Starry Night”. We are able to distinguish the stars from the night sky because of two contrasting attributes: The circular orbs that we perceive to be stars are all the same color, yellow.

What is Gestalt theory of learning? ›

The Gestalt Theory of the psychology of learning states that every stimulus in learning is perceived by humans in its most simple form, also known as the Law of Simplicity.

How do the gestalt principles help explain perception? ›

Gestalt principles such as figure-ground relationship, grouping by proximity or similarity, the law of good continuation, and closure are all used to help explain how we organize sensory information. Our perceptions are not infallible, and they can be influenced by bias, prejudice, and other factors.

What is an example of gestalt in AP psychology? ›

If proximity is due to position, then the Gestalt principle of similarity is how we piece information together by how similar objects are. For example, if there were five dogs of all different breeds and five cats of different breeds, then we would group them as cats and dogs.

What is a simple example sentence for gestalt? ›

He is a gestalt entity created through the fusion of fraternal twins while still in the womb.

What is an example of closure gestalt principle in real life? ›

Principle #6: closure

In other words, when you see an image that has missing parts, your brain will fill in the blanks and make a complete image so you can still recognize the pattern. For example, when you look at the image above, you most likely see a zebra even though the image is just a collection of black shapes.

Was Gestalt psychology a failure or a success? ›

Of course, Gestalt was not a complete success, nor were its precursors or rivals complete failures. Without Mach, Husserl, and von Ehrenfels, it is doubtful if there would have been Gestalt as we know it.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Gestalt psychology? ›

In fact, the only real downside to Gestalt therapy is the fact that it might be more time-consuming than other methods of therapy. This is because the techniques involve greater trust between patient and therapy, which can take some time to formulate. That being said, pros include: An increased sense of self-regulation.

What is the criticism of Gestalt theory of learning? ›

However, the Gestalt theory is also not free from various criticisms. The theory has been criticized for being too individualistic, which may encourage selfish behaviour on the part of the individuals. They give more importance to understanding oneself first before understanding others.

Which Gestalt principle is strongest? ›

The principle of uniform connectedness is the strongest of the Gestalt Principles concerned with relatedness. It refers to the fact that elements that are connected by uniform visual properties are perceived as being more related than elements that are not connected.

Why is gestalt therapy controversial? ›

Criticism of Gestalt Therapy

Although it is a spontaneous approach, the mood of the treatment may not be suitable for all clients and even too aggressive for some. There is also a controversial lack of monitoring during the interaction.

Why was Gestalt theory not popular in the US? ›

At first the difficulty of translating Gestalt's complicated context to English slowed its acceptance in America, as did the suspicion that Gestalt was more philosophy than psychology.

Which best describes Gestalt psychology? ›

Which of the following proverbs best describes Gestalt theory? The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Which of the following is least likely to be an example of classical conditioning?

How is Gestalt psychology used today? ›

Gestalt therapy can help clients with issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, relationship difficulties, and even some physical concerns such as migraines, ulcerative colitis, and back spasms.

What is the difference between Gestalt and cognitive psychology? ›

On the one hand, Gestalt therapy views disorders from the perspective of an immediate experience here and now. On the other hand, Cognitive Behavioral therapy considers the causes as the result of thinking influence on behavior. Also, the methodological issues differ in the two approaches.

Why was Gestalt psychology so important? ›

Contributions. Gestalt psychology made many contributions to the body of psychology. The Gestaltists were the first to demonstrate empirically and document many facts about perception—including facts about the perception of movement, the perception of contour, perceptual constancy, and perceptual illusions.

What is the most important contribution of Gestalt psychology in the field of psychology? ›

Contributions. Gestalt psychology contributed significantly to the field of psychology. Several facts about perception, such as motion perception, perceptual constancy, contour perception, and perceptual illusions, have been demonstrated empirically and recorded by the Gestaltists.

What are the 5 key concepts of Gestalt therapy? ›

The key concepts of gestalt therapy include figure and ground, balance and polarities, awareness, present-centeredness, unfinished business, and personal responsibility.

What is Gestalt principles with explanation? ›

Gestalt principles or laws are rules that describe how the human eye perceives visual elements. These principles aim to show how complex scenes can be reduced to more simple shapes. They also aim to explain how the eyes perceive the shapes as a single, united form rather than the separate simpler elements involved.

What is Gestalt theory and its principles? ›

Principles of Gestalt Psychology

Prägnanz: This foundational principle states that we naturally perceive things in their simplest form or organization. Similarity: This Gestalt principle suggests that we naturally group similar items together based on elements like color, size, and orientation.

What are the 4 pillars of Gestalt therapy? ›

Gestalt therapists/counsellors rely heavily on and are guided by four theoretical pillars that make up Gestalt methodology. They are phenomenology, dialogical relationship, field theory and experimentation.

What are the main principles of Gestalt therapy? ›

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is centered on increasing a person's awareness, freedom, and self-direction. It's a form of therapy that focuses on the present moment rather than past experiences. Gestalt therapy is based on the idea that people are influenced by their present environment.

What are the three pillars of Gestalt? ›

These correspond respectively to the three pillars of Gestalt theory; phenomenology, dialogue and field theory.

What is the importance of Gestalt theory? ›

Besides, “gestalt” in German means the “shape of an entity's complete form”. Thus, the operational principle of the brain is holistic and has a self-organizing inclination. The primary goal of the Gestalt Theory is to encourage the brain to view not just the whole, but also the parts that make up that whole.

What do gestalt principles describe quizlet? ›

A Gestalt principle of perceptual organization that states that points that, when connected, result in straight or smoothly curving lines are seen as belonging together, and that lines tend to be seen in such a way as to follow the smoothest path.

What Gestalt principle is the McDonalds logo? ›

McDonalds could be the easiest to identify by the golden arches in their logo. We see the arches and automatically think of Big Mac and fries, right? This is Gestalt Psychology, we use the similarity principle to associate food with the arch even though there may not be a picture of food by it.

What is an example of Gestalt principle in logos? ›

One of the best examples of this Gestalt principle is the fine ring Olympic logo. To the untrained eyes, it can simply seem like a series of curved lines. However, the brain is designed to help humans perceive the world in a simpler way, making humans see five circles overlapping.

What Gestalt principle is the NBA logo? ›

One theory is that manipulating the text like this incorporates the Gestalt principle of Proximity. Essentially, this means that the elements that make up the logo form a visually pleasing symmetrical, enclosed shape that we can easily digest, like the shape being a circle.


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