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Skip to main contentIntroduction to PsychologySensation and PerceptionSearch for:Gestalt Principles of PerceptionLEARNING OBJECTIVESBy the end of this section, you will be able to:Explain the figure-ground relationshipDefine Gestalt principles of groupingDescribe how perceptual set is influenced by an individual’s characteristics and mentalstateIn the early part of the 20th century, Max Wertheimer published a paper demonstratingthat individuals perceived motion in rapidly flickering static images—an insight thatcame to him as he used a child’s toy tachistoscope. Wertheimer, and his assistantsWolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka, who later became his partners, believed thatperception involved more than simply combining sensory stimuli. This belief led to anew movement within the field of psychology known as Gestalt psychology. Thewordgestaltliterally means form or pattern, but its use reflects the idea that the whole isdifferent from the sum of its parts. In other words, the brain creates a perception that ismore than simply the sum of available sensory inputs, and it does so in predictableways. Gestalt psychologists translated these predictable ways into principles by whichwe organize sensory information. As a result, Gestalt psychology has been extremelyinfluential in the area of sensation and perception (Rock & Palmer, 1990).One Gestalt principle is the figure-ground relationship. According to this principle, wetend to segment our visual world into figure and ground. Figure is the object or personthat is the focus of the visual field, while the ground is the background. As[link]shows,our perception can vary tremendously, depending on what is perceived as figure andwhat is perceived as ground. Presumably, our ability to interpret sensory informationdepends on what we label as figure and what we label as ground in any particular case,Search
although this assumption has been called into question (Peterson & Gibson, 1994;Vecera & O’Reilly, 1998).

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