Gestalt theory

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Gestalt theory is a more general term for the approach known as Gestalt psychology in the early 20th century . The term gestalt theory refers to the fact that it is a psychological theory, but that it claims to be relevant beyond psychology for other branches of science than metatheory .

Subject matter and core positions of Gestalt theory

Gestalt psychology is primarily concerned with the creation of order in psychological processes - in perception as well as in thinking , feeling and behavior . Basically, people are seen as open systems in active interaction with their environment, which organize their perceptions in certain patterns (see also interpretation patterns ).

It goes back - with the ideas and findings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , Ernst Mach and especially Christian von Ehrenfels as precursors - to the research work of Max Wertheimer , Wolfgang Köhler , Kurt Koffka and Kurt Lewin . They turned against the elemental conception of the psychic, associationism , classical behaviorism and the original Freudian drive theory . The neurologist Kurt Goldstein finally developed a holistic theory of the organism, which he himself differentiates from Gestalt psychology in a few points, but whose extensive agreement with the basic ideas and holistic orientation of Gestalt psychology is unmistakable.

The core statement " The whole is more than the sum of its parts " is often ascribed to gestalt theory , which in turn is said to go back to Aristotle. However, this ascription is wrong, as Wolfgang Metzger emphasizes: “It is ... not applicable to say that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Rather, it must be said: the whole is something other than the sum of its parts. It is not just about the - unchanged - parts that shape qualities are added, but everything that becomes part of a whole assumes new properties itself ”.

The main founder Max Wertheimer summarized what gestalt theory is all about in the following "formula":

“There are connections in which what happens as a whole is not derived from how the individual pieces are and how they are put together, but vice versa, where - in the concise case - what happens to a part of this whole is determined internally Structural laws of this its whole. ... Gestalt theory is this, nothing more and nothing less. "

In this sense, gestalt theory is not limited to the concept of gestalt or the whole and the gestalt factors of perception, as many publications suggest, but is to be understood much broader and more comprehensive:

  • The primacy of the phenomenal : the human experience as it presents itself, to be recognized and taken seriously as the only immediately given reality , is a basic statement of the Gestalt theory.
  • The interaction of the individual and the situation in the sense of a dynamic field determines experience and behavior and not just “drives” or external forces or fixed personality traits.
  • Connections of psychic facts are established more easily and permanently on the basis of factual relationships and less well through repetition and reinforcement.
  • Thinking and problem solving are characterized by structuring, restructuring and centering the given ("insight") in the direction of what is required.
  • In memory , structures are formed and differentiated based on associative connections. They follow a tendency towards optimal organization.
  • Incompatible cognitions of a person lead to dissonant experiences and to cognitive processes that try to reduce this dissonance.
  • In a supra-individual whole like a group, there is a tendency towards excellent relationships in the interplay of forces and needs .
  • Epistemologically, the gestalt theoretical approach corresponds to a critical-realistic point of view. At the methodological level, a sensible combination of experimental and phenomenological procedures (experimental-phenomenological method) is attempted. Central phenomena are approached without renouncing experimental rigor.
Images that are completed in the phenomenal world of perception on the basis of brain processes

Examples of Gestalt psychology in optical perception include the perception of an incomplete circle as a whole or a collection of points as a shape - based on brain processes that are currently still being explored, there is a tendency in the phenomenal world of perception to supplement the missing parts by extrapolation , so that a concise form is seen. Studies suggest that simple elements or compositions, where the meaning is immediately apparent, pose less of a challenge to the brain than complex ones, and therefore the former are preferred over the latter.

Well-known representatives in various fields of application

After the expulsion of the most important proponents of Gestalt theory into American exile during National Socialism, the Gestalt theory approach experienced a remarkable spread and further development there. Mary Henle , Solomon Asch ( social psychology ), Rudolf Arnheim (art psychology), Abraham S. Luchins and Edith H. Luchins became known from their circle of influence . Karl Duncker , one of the most important students of the founding generation, died in American exile and was best known for his work on productive thinking and problem solving.

Well-known representatives of the second generation of Gestalt theory in Germany were above all Wolfgang Metzger , Kurt Gottschaldt and Edwin Rausch . The butcher student Kurt Guss applied the principles of shape theory to questions of education and teaching. In Hans-Jürgen Walter , a disciple of the Gestalt psychologists Friedrich Hoeth go fundamental work on Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy back integrates the different shape on theoretical basis of findings of psychotherapeutic schools. Furthermore, it is Paul Tholey to mention that especially for its shape theoretically oriented work to lucid dream , for consciousness research and sports psychology has become known - in the latter area, he led the Gestalt theory of the sport continues to be a teacher Kurt Kohl had formulated.

Gestalt theory also experienced a remarkable spread and independent developments in Italy and Japan . Historically, Cesare Musatti , Fabio Metelli and Gaetano Kanizsa are the main pioneers in Italy .

The Gestalt theory has experienced a remarkable renaissance in the most diverse fields of science, research and application in recent years. To the international network of research and application practitioner entities active endeavors, founded in Germany in 1978 International Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications / Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications (GTA) , which now organizes members in many countries of the world. Since 1978 it has published the journal Gestalt Theory - An International Multidisciplinary Journal ( ISSN  0170-057X ), in which articles on the further development of Gestalt theory appear in a large number of subject areas, and organizes an international scientific workshop every two years (most recently in Germany, Austria and Italy).

Gestalt theory is being rediscovered today strengthened not only in perception research, but also in the brain research , in musicology and linguistics , in design , in medicine , psychotherapy , exercise science , in economics and social policy and even in the chemistry and genetics . In recent years, there has been increasing interest in both German and English-speaking countries in the contributions of gestalt theory to the field of psychopathology: From the outset, mental disorders in their genesis and dynamics have been an essential area of ​​work for researchers and practitioners with a gestalt theoretical orientation - these contributions ( see also Heinrich Schulte , Junius F. Brown , Erwin Levy and Abraham S. Luchins ) are now attracting increasing international attention.

The Gestalt theory is also being rediscovered and reinterpreted at the same time in the more recent, interdisciplinary discussion between philosophers, social scientists and designers about the connectable "design" of complex intellectual, communicative and social processes - for example in the context of innovation or change projects in business and society. In this context, Bernhard von Mutius speaks of the need to develop a new skill that he calls “ Gestalt competence”.

See also


For historical classification

  • Anne Harrington : The Search for Wholeness. The history of biological-psychological holistic teaching: From the German Empire to the New Age movement. New Jersey 1996; Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek near Hamburg 2002.
  • Mitchell G. Ash : Gestalt Psychology in German Culture. Holism and the Quest for Objectivity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York 1995. New edition 2007: ISBN 978-0-521-64627-7 . (Awarded the Morris D. Forkosch Prize of the Journal of the History of Ideas for the best book in the field of 'Intellectual History 'in 1995.)


  • Karl Duncker: On the psychology of productive thinking. Springer, Berlin 1963.
  • Kurt Lewin: Field theory in the social sciences. Selected theoretical writings. Huber, Bern 1963.
  • Kurt Koffka: Principles of Gestalt Psychology. Harcourt-Brace, New York 1935 (three chapters from this basic work have now been published in German translation in the journal “Gestalt Theory” and are now also included in the selection volume Kurt Koffka 2008).
  • Kurt Koffka: On the basics of Gestalt psychology - a selection volume. Edited by Michael Stadler. Verlag Wolfgang Kammer, Vienna 2008.
  • Wolfgang Köhler: Values ​​and facts. Springer, Berlin 1968.
  • Wolfgang Metzger: Gestalt psychology. Selected Works. Edited by M. Stadler and H. Crabus. Kramer, Frankfurt 1999 (2nd edition).
  • Wolfgang Metzger: Psychology. The evolution of their basic assumptions since the introduction of the experiment. Krammer, Vienna 2002 (6th edition), ISBN 978-3901811074 .
  • Wolfgang Metzger: Creative freedom. Kramer, Frankfurt 1962.
  • Max Wertheimer: About Gestalt Theory. Lecture to the Kant Society, Berlin on December 17, 1924. Publishing house of the Philosophical Academy, Erlangen 1925.
  • Max Wertheimer: Productive thinking. Kramer, Frankfurt 1964 (2nd edition), ISBN 978-3782910224 .

Newer literature

  • Herbert Fitzek : Gestalt psychology compact: Basics of a psychology for practice . Springer Verlag VS, ISBN 978-3658042752
  • Giuseppe Galli : Man as fellow man. Essays on Gestalt theory in research, application and dialogue. Edited and introduced by Gerhard Stemberger . Krammer, Vienna 2017, ISBN 978-3-901811-753
  • Kurt Guss : Rubin's cup. Gestalt theoretical propaedeutic course. Publishing house of the Ostwestfalen Academy, Borgentreich 2013. ISBN 978-3-947435-26-5 .
  • Kurt Guss (Ed.): Berlin School. Gestalt theory revision course. Publishing house of the Ostwestfalen-Akademie, Borgentreich 2018. ISBN 978-3-947435-12-8 .
  • Kurt Guss (ed.): Wertheimer's window. Gestalt theoretical colloquium. Verlag der Ostwestfalen-Akademie, Borgentreich 2018. ISBN 978-3-947435-13-5 .
  • Kurt Guss (ed.): Psychological research. Years 1922–1938. Publishing house of the Ostwestfalen-Akademie, Borgentreich 2019. ISBN 978-3-947435-14-2 .
  • Hellmuth Metz-Göckel (Ed.): Gestalt Theory Current - Handbook on Gestalt Theory, Vol. 1 . Krammer, Vienna 2008, ISBN 978-3901811364 .
  • Hellmuth Metz-Göckel (Ed.): Gestalt Theoretical Inspirations - Handbook on Gestalt Theory, Vol. 2 . Krammer, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3901811593 .
  • Hellmuth Metz-Göckel (ed.): Gestalt theory and cognitive psychology . Springer, Vienna, New York 2016. ISBN 9783658126650 .
  • Marianne Soff: Gestalt theory for schools. Teaching, upbringing and teacher health from a classic psychological perspective. Krammer, Vienna 2017, ISBN 978-3901811746 .
  • Gerhard Stemberger (Ed.): Mental disorders in the I-world relationship. Gestalt theory and psychotherapeutic disease theory. Krammer, Vienna 2002, ISBN 978-3901811098 .
  • Paul Tholey: Gestalt theory of sport, lucid dream and consciousness. Selected works, edited and introduced by Gerhard Stemberger . Krammer: Vienna 2018, ISBN 978-3-901811760 .
  • Hans-Jürgen Walter: Gestalt theory and psychotherapy. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1994 (3rd edition).
  • Hans-Jürgen Walter: Applied Gestalt theory in psychotherapy and psychohygiene. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1996.
  • Ralf Debus: Gestalt Psychology of Viewing Art - An introduction based on the description of works by Werner Schmalenbach. Tredition Verlag, Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-7345-5607-4

Web links


  1. The first comprehensive presentation of the Gestalt theory in the sense of Max Wertheimer comes from Gabriele von Wartensleben , see GvW 1914, The Christian Personality in the Ideal Image . A description of sub specie psychologica . Kempten and Munich: Kösel. Translated into English and commented on by Mitchell G. Ash, Gestalt Psychology in German Culture , 1998.
  2. W. Metzger 1975, What is Gestalt Theory? In: K. Guss (Ed.), Gestalt theory and education, Darmstadt: Steinkopff, p. 6
  3. About Gestalt theory. Lecture to the Kant Society, Berlin on December 17, 1924. Publishing house of the Philosophical Academy: Erlangen 1925
  4. see Mario Zanforlin 2004: Gestalt Theory in Italy - Is it Still Alive? and Fiorenza Toccafondi & Rosamaria Valdevit (2007), Gestalt Psychology in Italy - Tradition and Current Issues , in H. Metz-Göckel (Ed.), Gestalt Theory Current - Handbook on Gestalt Theory Volume 1, Vienna: Krammer, pp. 113–129.
  5. see the thematic issue of the journal Gestalt Theory vol. Published by Walter H. Ehrenstein . 30 (2008): Perceptual research in Japan . See also Noguchi, Kitaoka & Takashima (2008): Gestalt-Oriented Perceptual Research in Japan: Past and Present
  6. u. a. in connection with the discovery of the so-called mirror neurons: MN Eagle u. JC Wakefield, Gestalt Psychology and the Mirror Neuron Discovery, in: Gestalt Theory, 29 , 1, 2007, 59-64; before that, more general information on neural gestalt mechanisms of perception Ehrenstein, Spillmann & Sarris 2003: Gestalt Issues in Modern Neuroscience , Axiomathes 13 , 433–458, 2003.
  7. z. B. Leman, Marc (Ed., 1997): Music, Gestalt, and Computing. Studies in Cognitive and Systematic Musicology . Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer
  8. ↑ For bibliography on Gestalt theory and linguistics see
  9. see below a. Roy Behrens, Art, Design and Gestalt Theory , LEONARDO, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 299-303,1998
  10. here above all about the work of Kurt Kohl and Paul Tholey
  11. see v. a. the work of Ekkehart Schlicht and Gisela Kubon-Gilke , the latter and 32 co-authors of the two-volume compendium Gestalten der Sozialpolitik , 2018, Verlag Mitropa.
  12. ^ Anton Amann : The shape problem in chemistry. The formation of molecular form under the influence of the environment. In: Gestalt Theory 14 (1992), pp. 228-265. The Gestalt problem in quantum theory: Generation of molecular shape by the environment . In: Synthesis 97 (1993), pp. 125-156. [1]
  13. see u. a. Cesar Koppe Grisolia (2005), Genes, genome and Gestalt , Genet. Mol. Res. 4 (1): 100-104.