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Gestalt Theory

Gestalt Theory

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Published by V.K. Maheshwari

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Published by: V.K. Maheshwari on Mar 23, 2013
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Gestalt Theory- The Insight Learning
Dr. V.K. Maheshwari, Former PrincipalK.L.D.A.V (P.G) College, Roorkee, India
Learning means to bring changes in the behaviour of the organism. It is very difficult to give auniversally acceptable explanation of learning because various theories developed by psychologistsattempt to explain the process from different angles.During the first quarter of 20
century the quarrels within academic psychology lay chiefly inside theframework of association psychology .Structuralism, functionalism and behaviourism were allmembers of the association family. They are all examples of the working out of an empiricalmethodology of science, where by the accumulation of facts was supposed to lead one to the properconception of nature.
Meaning of Gestalt Theory
The Gestalt theorists were the first group of psychologists to systematically study perceptual
organisation around the 1920’s, in Germany
.They were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Ernst Mach,and particularly of Christian von Ehrenfels and the research work of Max Wertheimer, WolfgangKöhler, Kurt Koffka, and Kurt LewinAccording to the Gestalt psychologists certain features in visualperception are universal. In semiotic terms, these universal features can be thought of as aperceptual code.Gestalt is asensual theory, what we see is a result of light and dark objects, edges and contoursthat we form into a whole image. Sensual theories are of a lower order of thinking thanperceptualtheories, such as semiotics, that are concerned with the meaning we attach to what we see.Dissatisfied with the behaviourist approach of learning, the psychologists tried to see learning as amore deliberate and conscious effort of the individual rather than a mere product of habit formationor a machine-like stimulus-response connection. According to them the learner does not merelyrespond to a stimulus, but mentally processes what he receives or perceives. Thus learning is apurposive, explorative and creative activity instead of trial and error.Things cannot be understood by the study of its constituent parts only ,bu actually it is understoodonly by perceiving it as a totality or whole.
Gestalt theory focused on the mind’s perceptive. The word ‘Gestalt’ has no direct translation in
English, but refers to “a way a thing has been gestalt; i.e., placed, or put together”; commontranslations include ‘form’ and ‘shape’. Gaetano Kanizca refers to it as ‘organized structure’. Gestalt
theorists followed the basic principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In otherwords, the whole (a picture, a car) carried a different and altogether greater meaning than itsindividual components (paint,canvas,brush;or tire, paint, metal, respectively). In viewing the
“whole,” a cognitive
process takes place
the mind makes a leap from understanding the parts torealizing the whole.Gestalt theory was introduced as a contrast to at the time dominant structuralism, which claimedthat complex perceptions could be understood through breaking them into smaller elementary partsof experience, like splitting graphical forms into sets of dots or melody into sequence of sounds.Gestalt theory attacked this theory and holds that same melody can be recognized if transposed intoanother key and perception of a rectangle can be achieved through other forms than four lines. Theidea of Wertheimer was that the ability to perceive objects was an ability of the nervous system,which tends to group together objects that are nearby, similar, form smooth lines, form most of theshape we can recognize.According to Gestalt psychology, the whole is different than the sum of its parts. Based upon thisbelief, Gestalt psychologists developed a set of principles to explain perceptual organization, or howsmaller ob
 jects are grouped to form larger ones. These principles are often referred to as the ‘lawsof perceptual organization.’
 Gestalt (the German word meansformorwhole) is a theory that the brain operates holistically, with self-organizing tendencies. The statement,whole is different from the sum of its partssums up theway we recognize figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines, curves andshapes.e.g. describing a tree - it's parts are trunk, branches, leaves, perhaps blossoms or fruitBut when you look at an entire tree, you are not conscious of the parts, you are awareof the overall object - the tree.Parts are of secondary importance even though they can be clearly seen.Perhaps the best known example of a gestalt is the vase/face profile which is fully explained inthe six Gestalt Principlesdetailed below. 
However, it is important to note that while Gestalt psychologists call these phenomena ‘laws,’ amore accurate term would be ‘principles of perceptual organization.’ Thes
e principles are much likeheuristics, which are mental shortcuts for solving problems.
Fundamental Experiment
Much of the scientific knowledge concerning learning derives from work onanimal behaviourthatwas conducted by 20th-century GermanGestaltpsychologistWolfgang Köhler.Kohler conducted
many experiments with his chimpanzee ‘Sulthan’ at island of Teniriffa in Africa to describe the term‘insight’. These experiments are the illustration of Learning by Insight.
 1. In one experiment, a banana was kept far outside the cage and two sticks
one larger than theother- were kept inside the box. . In one experiment Köhler placed a banana outside the cage of ahungry chimpanzee, Sultan, and gave the animal two sticks, each too short for pulling in the food but joinable to make a single stick of sufficient length. Sultan tried unsuccessfully to use each stick, andhe even used one stick to push the other along to touch the banana. . When failed to reach thebanana by one stick, with a sudden bright idea the chimpanzee tried to reach the banana by joiningthe two sticks Apparently after having given up, Sultan accidentally joined the sticks, observed theresult, and immediately ran with the longer tool to retrieve the banana. When the experiment wasrepeated, Sultan joined the two sticks and solved the problem immediately.2. In another experiment the chimpanzee was shut up in a room with unsalable walls. A banana washanging with the ceiling. The animal was hungry. He jumped at the fruit but it was too high. He leftthe efforts and sat down.There was a box lying in the corner of the room. The animal began to play with the box. He thensuddenly got up and pushed the box to the centre of the room below the banana, jumped from itand got the fruit.3. In another experiment Kohler made this problem a little more complicated that two or threeboxes were required to reach the banana.These experiments demonstrated the role of intelligence and cognitive abilities in higher learningand problem solving situations.
The Insight Learning
This was observed in the experiments of Wolfgang Kohler involving chimpanzees. Kohler found thatchimpanzees could use insight learning instead of trial-and error to solve problems.Learning by conditioning is common to all animals and human beings and useful for early education.But learning by insight is suitable only for intelligent creatures both human and animals and useful

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