Psychology Challenges Behaviorism
by Max Wertheimer (1880-1943), Gestalt psychology surfaced as a
school in Germany early in the 20th century.Gestalt psychology
based on the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
is German for"form" or "shape"). An example of this
is provided by the phi phenomenon, first described by Wertheimer
. The phi phenomenon is the illusion of movement created by
visual stimuli in rapid succession. For example, movies and TV
of separate still pictures projected rapidly one after the other.
we see smooth motion, in reality the "moving" objects merely take
slightly different position in successive frames. The same principle is
by electric signs, such as those on movie marquees or at road
sites (see the adjacent photo). The bulbs going on and off in
with the appropriate timing, give the impression of motion. Of
nothing in the sign really moves. The elements (the bulbs) are
Working as a whole, however, they have a property (motion) that
evident in any of the parts. Some of the other perceptual phenomena
by the Gestalt psychologists are described in Chapter 4.
psychology's emergence in 1912 was in part a reaction against
an influential school of thought in Germany at the time.
the structuralists' interest in breaking conscious experience
its component parts seemed ill advised in light of the Gestalt
demonstration that the whole can be much greater than the sum of
parts. Nazi persecutions in Germany eventually forced the leading
theorists; Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Kohler; to move to
United States, where they attacked the theoretical edifice of
They took issue with the behaviorists on two counts.
saw the behaviorists' attempt to analyze behavior into
bonds as another ill-fated effort to carve the whole into
parts. Second,they felt that psychology should continue to study
experience rather than shift its focus to observable behavior.
structuralism and functionalism (to which it is compared in Table
Gestalt psychology had a limited life span. At its peak, it was an
combatant in psychology's theoretical wars and was responsible for
major advances in the study of perception, problem solving, and social
However, after its relocation in North America, the Gestalt
was unable to attract a large second generation of loyalists
Thus, it gradually faded as an important school of thought.
the Gestalt school left its mark on the field, as it contributed
the eventual emergence of two contemporary theoretical perspectives in
humanism and cognitive psychology. We'll discuss these
later, after we look at the highly influential ideas of
Freud and B. F. Skinner.
of Three Early Theoretical Perspectives in Psychology
1. Perspective: Structuralism
o Its Influential Period: (1875-1930s)
o Principal Contributors: Wilhelm Wundt Edward Titchener
o Subject Matter: Structure of consciousness
o Basic Premise: The content of conscious experience can be
analyzed into its basic elements.
2. Perspective: Functionalism
o Its Influential Period: (1890-1930s)
o Principal Contributors: William James G. Stanley Hall James
o Subject Matter: Functions of consciousness
o Basic Premise: The adaptive purposes of conscious experience are
more important than its structure.
3. Perspective: Gestalt psychology
o Its Influential Period: (1912-1940s)
o Principal Contributors: Max Wertheimer Kurt Koffka Wolfgang
o Subject Matter: Organization of consciousness
o Basic Premise: Conscious experiences and perceptions are more
than the sum of their parts.
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