If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Gestalt principles

Created by Ronald Sahyouni.

Want to join the conversation?

  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user djoverton
    It seems like the circles for the Continuity example should all be the same colour, since this would probably have a greater effect on perceiving them as a group than the angle of curvature.
    (100 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leafers tree style avatar for user Ronald B
    Is the law of closure a type of top-down processing method, or are the two unrelated?
    (17 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user G
    This video leaves me confused about what is expected to prepare for the 2015MCAT. There were several Gestalt laws that were not covered in this video--what does this mean for my studying? Are these "extra" laws also test-able concepts?
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leafers tree style avatar for user bernny felix
      Probably they just wanted to cover the 'most important' laws. Everything is fair game on the MCAT, if it appears on the aamc review guide. However, don't concentrate on details, try to understand the concept and practice as much as you can. I took the old version, and on test day I realized that the test was all about test taking abilities and not so much on what I actually knew at that moment.
      (16 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Alexander Pereswetoff-Morath
    It'd be interesting to see research that look at whether or not the law of Pragnanz (primarily) is inherent to all humans or if our environment has an effect on it. Would a person who lives in a jungle tribe, with no concept of what we consider to be a circle, also break it down into circles? Of course, they might have their own terms for circles, but they also don't have the same kind of educational systems compared to the rest of the world. Any thoughts on that?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Jehshua Karunakaran
    I'm just a little confused. Ron defined the Law of Continuity as "Lines are seen as following the smoothest path." However, most resources I've read define the smoothest path phenomenon as the Law of Common Fate. The Law of Continuity is more often defined as the ability to perceive 2 or more distinct, individual objects even when they intersect. Sudden changes of directions in line pattern indicate a different path; however, that is different from lines following the smoothest path. Am I getting this right?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • marcimus purple style avatar for user melissadequadros
      I think that the Law of Common Fate deals more with motion.

      From Wikipedia:

      Law of Common Fate—The law of common fate states that objects are perceived as lines that move along the smoothest path. Experiments using the visual sensory modality found that movement of elements of an object produce paths that individuals perceive that the objects are on. We perceive elements of objects to have trends of motion, which indicate the path that the object is on. The law of continuity implies the grouping together of objects that have the same trend of motion and are therefore on the same path. For example, if there are an array of dots and half the dots are moving upward while the other half are moving downward, we would perceive the upward moving dots and the downward moving dots as two distinct units.

      There's a couple of nice examples over here. https://psychlopedia.wikispaces.com/Law+of+Common+Fate

      We see a school of fish as a large group when they're swimming in the sea, rather than the fish as individual fish. There's a nice animated GIF of some dots on that page :)

      Law of Continuity—The law of continuity states that elements of objects tend to be grouped together, and therefore integrated into perceptual wholes if they are aligned within an object. In cases where there is an intersection between objects, individuals tend to perceive the two objects as two single uninterrupted entities. Stimuli remain distinct even with overlap. We are less likely to group elements with sharp abrupt directional changes as being one object

      Example: http://oi65.tinypic.com/2nkhquf.jpg
      Here's a better example because all the dots are black, so we don't need to worry about colour as a confound.
      (3 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user rajiv.0794
    Hey there, according to the Kaplan MCAT prep textbook your last example was suppose to be for the "subjective contours". This is not in the list. I was wondering whether you can explain that once again?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Tait Keenan
    It seems like atleast a few of these Principles overlap. Is it correct to assume that they are not mutually exclusive?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • marcimus purple style avatar for user melissadequadros
      They definitely do overlap. I guess that's what makes this concept tricky. I was just going over the law of continuity, and similarity and proximity also come into play (we see dots heading upward in a continuous direction partly because they're all very similarly sized dots, and because they're all close to each other). I'm a little apprehensive about this topic because we might not interpret the question in the same way as the test-makers.
      (3 votes)
  • leafers seed style avatar for user Andy Vega Caraballo
    In the last example around about closure, doesn't that image apply to another Gestalt Principle called subjective contours? He even mentioned "contour". Or is it that since I can also fill in the blank and know it's a triangle, the example can be used for both principles: Contours and Closure. An early thanks to those who answer my question!
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user Sherrie Wang
      I would think that they are the same. His definition of law of closure is : "objects grouped together are seen as a whole", which makes sense in both subjective contours and closure. In both cases we make invisible connecting lines to make an object appear as a whole.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user mandeep singh
    an example used for the law of closure is another example of top-down processing?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Francesco Maoli
    Would seeing patterns (where there is no such pattern) or assuming something to be true be an example of top-down? For example always seeing the same number somewhere every day, hearing a rhythm in white noise, feeling a light touch and twitching because you think it's a bug. Am I getting too complex?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

Voiceover: Imagine that you're sitting at home and you're watching a basketball game on your TV. What you're actually seeing are a bunch of still images put in front of one another and what you're doing is taking those still images and putting them together in your head and basically telling yourself that you're watching a fluid realistic basketball game. How was it that we're able to do this? This is what the gestalt principles basically attempt to address. Gestalt principles. The gestalt principles basically seek to explain how we perceive things the way we do. Why is it that we don't tell ourselves hey, the basketball is just a bunch of pictures but rather that it's a fluid realistic representation of a basketball game? There are several different laws or principles that the gestaltist came up with and we're gonna look at each one of these and look in an example. Over here we're gonna look at the law and over here we're gonna write down the definition. The first law or gestalt principle is the law of similarity. Law of similarity. The law of similarity basically says the items that are similar to one another are grouped together by your brain. Grouped together. What does this mean? Let's look at an example. In this example you can see that there are squares and there are circles. Basically there's a square here, there's a circle here and so on and so forth. Maybe the first thing that you noticed was that this image looks like there were a bunch of squares on top of one another and a bunch of circles on top of one another. In other words your brain naturally noticed a pattern. It naturally notice that the squares created these vertical column and these ... Sorry, these circles created this vertical column and these squares created these vertical column. Your brain naturally organized this picture in vertical columns rather than in this longer horizontal columns. This is what the first gestalt principle is saying is that things that are similar to one another, so circles will be grouped together by your brain. The second gestalt principle is the law of Pragnanz. Pragnanz. This basically says that reality is often organized or reduced to the simplest form possible. Reality is reduced to simplest form. What do I mean by this? Let's look at an example again here. Here you see five circles that are juxtaposed on top of one another. What the law of Pragnanz basically says is that we look a this image and what we do is break it down into five circles. Here's one circle, here's two circles. Why is it that we don't break it down into more complex shapes so we could look at this object and say okay, here's this weird diamondy ovally shape over here and then there's a semi circle over here, and then we've got ... Or you could say here's one line and then here's another line. We can look at this and break it down into much more complicated shapes but we don't. We look at it and we just notice that here's a circle and here's another circle and they're on top of one another. We're basically looking at this fairly complex set of lines and reducing it down to its simplest form which is five circles juxtaposed on top of one another rather than more complex shapes that are coming together to form this image. The third gestalt principle or law is the law of proximity. Law of proximity. This basically says that objects that are close to one another are grouped together. Grouped together. Let's look at an example for the law of proximity. Over here we see a bunch of circles. When you look at this image you naturally notice this pattern, rectangular pattern of circles and you notice this other rectangular horizontal pattern of circles. These circles are grouped closer together than this set of circles right here. Basically your brain ... Let me just erase this so you can see. Why is it that we didn't just look at this set of circles and kind of put them together? That's because these circles are closer together than these ones are. There's more of a distance here between the circles than there is over here. Smaller distance. We naturally look at the distance. We naturally look at how close different objects are and group the ones that are really close to one another together. The next law is the law of continuity. The law of continuity basically says that lines are seen as following the smoothest path. Lines are seen as following the smoothest path. Let's look at an example. In this example we see again a bunch of circles. When you look at these you kind of notice that there's this continuous flow in this set of circles rather than a flow this way. That's because the angle here is much less steep than this angle. Your brain naturally draws this line over here and notices that these circles are continuous whereas these ones are a little bit discontinuous. Another thing that your brain does when you're looking at this image is that it basically takes these circles and organizes them as one entity. It puts them together and notices a pattern that hey, these circles are forming this continuous line and it puts together and you group these circles in one category, in one mental category than these guys over here that are in their own separate category. That's what the law of continuity basically says. The final law or gestalt principle is the law of closure. Law of closure. Basically this is just saying that the objects grouped together are seen as a whole. We ignore gaps and complete contour lines. Let me just write down the definition. Objects grouped together are seen as a whole. Let's look at an example. Over here we see this angle over here, we see this angle, we see this weird Pacman-looking semi circle thing. Your mind naturally fills in this triangle. I don't know if you guys saw this but there's like this triangle here. There are gaps and your mind naturally fills in the gaps. It fills in the contour lines and you perceive this triangle. Let me just go ahead and remove that. You can see that even though there isn't actually any triangles in this image your brain is telling you hey, there's a triangle. You're noticing this triangle. That's what the law of closure is basically saying is that your mind is filling the missing information to create familiar shapes and images.