Gestalt Principles: Perception

Perception Definition: A perception is a belief held by a person, or many people, based upon how they see the world around them.

What are Gestalt Principles? The Gestalt School of Psychology was led by Max Wertheimer in Germany. This school was set up to help develop theories which could be used to make visual perceptions.

Gestalt is German for ‘Unified Whole’. The theories which were developed within the school were made to try and show how people visualize elements and put them into certain groups.

Figure and Ground

This theory shows that people focus on certain aspects of a situation, therefore missing out other important parts. Take a look at some examples of this below.

Is the image of two faces or a vase?

Gestalt Figure The Ground

The “figure-ground” principle is one of the fundamental concepts in Gestalt psychology, which deals with how our visual perception tends to separate images into a “figure” (the main focus) and a “ground” (the background or backdrop). This principle is crucial in understanding how people interpret visual scenes and how attention is allocated in our perception of different elements.

Key Aspects of Figure-Ground in Perception

Automatic Segregation: Our perceptual system automatically divides every visual scene into the figure, which is the object or set of objects of focus, and the ground, which is the less distinct background. This division is often immediate and occurs without conscious effort.

Reversible Figures: In some cases, the figure and ground can switch, leading to two different interpretations of the same image. Classic examples are the “Rubin Vase” and the “Face-Vase” illusion, where the brain alternates between seeing a vase and two faces – as shown above.

Factors Influencing Figure-Ground Perception:

    • Size: Smaller objects are more likely to be perceived as figures, while larger areas become the ground.
    • Symmetry: Symmetrical objects are more often seen as figures.
    • Contrast and Color: Higher contrast between an object and its surroundings often results in the object being seen as the figure.
    • Edge Assignment: If an area is enclosed by a boundary, it’s more likely to be seen as a figure.
    • Meaning and Familiarity: Familiar and meaningful objects are more likely to be perceived as figures.

The figure-ground principle is a testament to the complexity and adaptability of human perception. It highlights how our understanding of visual scenes is influenced by a dynamic interplay between what is seen and how it is interpreted. This principle remains a fundamental concept in various disciplines, underscoring the importance of perceptual organization in understanding both art and the everyday visual world.


This theory proves to us that we interpret situations using experience, not just what we are seeing at that moment in time. For example, if we see each corner of a circle, but don’t actually see the circle, we will still interpret it as a circle. Take a look at the example of this below.

Gestalt Triangle Reification

Reification, in the context of Gestalt psychology, refers to a cognitive process by which the mind perceives more spatial information in a visual pattern than what is actually presented. It’s a kind of perceptual completion or a form of optical illusion where our perception ‘fills in’ the missing parts of a visual stimulus, creating a whole image from incomplete information.

This phenomenon demonstrates how our perceptions are not merely passive receptions of sensory input but active constructions of reality based on both the available sensory data and our previous experiences and expectations.

Key Aspects of Reification in Perception

Perceptual Completion: Reification is often seen in images where only a portion of an object is depicted, yet we perceive the whole object. The mind completes the missing parts based on past experiences and knowledge of familiar shapes and patterns.

Role of Experience and Memory: Our past experiences and memory play a crucial role in this process. The mind uses stored information about shapes and objects to interpret incomplete sensory data. This means that what we perceive is a combination of current sensory input and our past experiences.

Examples in Everyday Life: Common examples include seeing a circle when only parts of it are drawn or completing the missing parts of a partially hidden object. Our brain assumes the continuation of its shape and form.

Understanding Visual Perception: Reification helps in understanding visual perception disorders and anomalies. By studying how the brain fills in gaps, researchers can gain insights into how the brain processes visual information.

Reification challenges the notion of objective perception. It suggests that our perceptions are subjective constructions influenced by our cognitive processes. This has implications not only in psychology but also in philosophy, particularly in discussions about the nature of reality and how it is perceived and understood by the human mind.


When looking at images our eyes naturally follow the line, or curve, therefore leading us to something else. This can be used on organizations and management because it shows direction, creating images that the organization is moving forward. Take a look at this example below;

Continuation Gestalt

Continuation, as a principle of Gestalt psychology, plays a significant role in how we perceive and interpret visual elements, both in everyday life and in organizational contexts.

This principle asserts that our eyes naturally follow a line or a curve within an image, and this perceived continuity guides our visual experience and understanding.

In organizational and management contexts, the principle of continuation can be strategically used to convey a sense of direction, progress, or flow, influencing both internal and external perceptions of the organization.

Key Aspects of Continuation in Perception

Visual Flow: Continuation refers to the tendency of the human eye to follow a path, line, or curve, moving from one element to the next. This creates a visual flow that guides the viewer’s attention across the image.

Seamless Connection: When elements in a visual scene are aligned in a straight line or a smooth curve, they are perceived as being more related than elements that are not connected in such a manner. This perceived connection can influence the way information is processed and understood.

Reducing Complexity: By leveraging the principle of continuation, complex information can be organized in a manner that is easier to comprehend. It helps in creating a visual narrative that is logical and intuitive.

Visual Communication: In marketing and branding, continuation can be used to create logos and designs that guide the viewer’s eye in a specific direction, often towards key information or brand elements.

Presentations and Data Visualization: In organizational reports, presentations, and data visualizations, the principle of continuation can help in guiding the viewer’s attention through the material in a logical and coherent manner.

Office Layout and Design: The physical layout of an office space can be designed with smooth, continuous lines that guide movement and sight, creating an environment that feels more intuitive and navigable.

Organizational Direction and Strategy: Graphically, the concept of continuation can be employed to represent the direction or strategy of an organization. For example, timelines, growth charts, and strategic roadmaps can be designed to visually lead the viewer along the path of the organization’s journey and goals.

The principle of continuation is a powerful tool in the realm of visual perception and communication. In organizational settings, it can be effectively used to guide attention, convey information, and create a sense of direction and flow.

Understanding and applying this principle can enhance the effectiveness of visual communication, strategic presentations, and overall organizational design, aligning with the goals and direction of the organization.

Connecting Gestalt Principles and Organizational Behavior

Gestalt principles, while primarily associated with visual perception and psychology, have significant intersections with Organizational Behavior (OB). These intersections are particularly evident in how individuals perceive, interpret, and interact within organizational settings.

Here’s an outline of how Gestalt principles interconnect with OB:

Perception in the Workplace:

    • Figure-Ground: In OB, this principle can be applied to how employees differentiate primary tasks (figure) from the background of less critical tasks (ground). It helps in understanding how employees focus on certain aspects of their work while relegating others to the background.
    • Similarity and Proximity: These principles can influence how employees perceive their colleagues and form groups or teams. Individuals who share similarities (in job roles, skills, or backgrounds) or work in close proximity are more likely to be perceived as a cohesive group.

Leadership and Communication:

    • Continuity: This principle can be seen in leadership and organizational communication, where the flow of information and consistency in messaging are critical. Leaders often use continuity in narratives to maintain a sense of coherence and direction.
    • Closure: Effective leaders and managers use this principle to help employees see the ‘big picture’ or end goal, even when only part of the information or path is visible.

Organizational Design and Structure:

    • Figure-Ground: In organizational design, this principle helps in distinguishing between core operational areas (figure) and support or background functions (ground).
    • Proximity: This principle is relevant in designing office spaces where placing teams in close physical proximity can enhance collaboration and group cohesion.

Team Dynamics and Group Formation:

    • Similarity: This principle explains why individuals with similar characteristics or interests often form groups or teams within an organization.
    • Closure: Teams often use this principle to complete tasks effectively, filling in gaps in knowledge or skills collectively to achieve a common goal.

Change Management and Organizational Development:

    • Continuity: In managing change, ensuring a sense of continuity can help employees adapt more easily, as they perceive change as part of a logical progression rather than a disruptive shift.
    • Closure and Proximity: These principles can be used to help employees understand and embrace new structures, processes, or strategies by highlighting the connections to existing elements.

Problem-Solving and Innovation:

    • Closure: Encourages creative thinking by allowing individuals to ‘fill in the gaps’ and see beyond the current information, leading to innovative solutions.
    • Figure-Ground: Helps in identifying core problems (figure) from peripheral issues (ground).

Marketing and Consumer Behavior within Organizations:

    • All Gestalt Principles: Useful in creating marketing materials and strategies that are cohesive, attention-grabbing, and effectively communicate the intended message to the target audience, both internally and externally.

In summary, Gestalt principles provide a valuable framework for understanding various aspects of Organizational Behavior, from perception and communication to team dynamics and organizational design. They highlight how individuals cognitively process their surroundings and interact within the organizational context, influencing everything from daily tasks to broader strategic initiatives.


What are Gestalt Principles?

Gestalt Principles are a set of theories in psychology that describe how humans tend to organize visual elements into groups or unified wholes when certain principles are applied.

Who developed Gestalt Principles?

Gestalt Principles were developed by German psychologists, including Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, in the early 20th century.

What does “Gestalt” mean?

“Gestalt” is a German word that means “unified whole” or “configuration.” It represents the idea that the whole of an object or scene is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

What are some key Gestalt Principles?

Key principles include proximity, similarity, closure, continuity, and figure-ground.

How does the Proximity Principle work?

The Proximity Principle states that objects that are close to each other tend to be perceived as a group.

What is the Similarity Principle?

The Similarity Principle suggests that elements that are similar in appearance (such as color, shape, or size) are perceived as part of a pattern or group.

Can you explain the Closure Principle?

The Closure Principle posits that people tend to perceive incomplete shapes as complete. Our minds fill in missing information to create a complete, familiar shape.

What does the Continuity Principle state?

The Continuity Principle holds that the eye is drawn along a path, line, or curve, preferring continuous forms over disjointed ones.

How does the Figure-Ground Principle work?

The Figure-Ground Principle involves perceiving objects (the figure) as separate from their background (the ground), and it can sometimes lead to multiple interpretations of the same image.

Why are Gestalt Principles important in design and psychology?

Gestalt Principles are crucial in understanding how people visually perceive and interpret the world around them. They are widely used in design, art, and marketing to create visually appealing and easily understandable compositions.

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