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1.5: Wertheimer, Koffka, Kohler, Aad Gestalt Psychology

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    Max Wertheimer (1880–1943), Kurt Koffka (1886–1941), and Wolfgang Kohler (1887–1967) were three German psy- chologists who immigrated to the United States in the early twentieth century to escape Nazi Germany. These men are credited with introducing psychologists in the United States to various Gestalt principles. The word Gestalt roughly trans- lates to “whole;” a major emphasis of Gestalt psychology deals with the fact that although a sensory experience can be bro- ken down into individual parts, how those parts relate to each other as a whole is often what the individual responds to in perception. For example, a song may be made up of individ- ual notes played by different instruments, but the real nature of the song is perceived in the combinations of these notes as they form the melody, rhythm, and harmony. In many ways, this particular perspective would have directly contradicted Wundt’s ideas of structuralism (Thorne & Henley, 2005).

    Unfortunately, in moving to the United States, these men were forced to abandon much of their work and were unable to continue to conduct research on a large scale. These fac- tors along with the rise of behaviorism (described next) in the United States prevented principles of Gestalt psychology from being as influential in the United States as they had been in their native Germany (Thorne & Henley, 2005). Despite these issues, several Gestalt principles are still very influential today. Considering the human individual as a whole rather than as a sum of individually measured parts became an important foundation in humanistic theory late in the cen- tury. The ideas of Gestalt have continued to influence research on sensation and perception.

    Structuralism, Freud, and the Gestalt psychologists were all concerned in one way or another with describing and understanding inner experience. But other researchers had concerns that inner experience could be a legitimate sub- ject of scientific inquiry and chose instead to exclusively study behavior, the objectively observable outcome of mental processes.


    This page titled 1.5: Wertheimer, Koffka, Kohler, Aad Gestalt Psychology is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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