Max Wertheimer is among the most notable names in the field of psychology. His contributions can be found in nearly every area of psychology. His thoughts and ideas have had far reaching implications. In the last three or four decades, a lot of research based on his works and ideas has been conducted. However, it is a sad fact that his contributions to psychology could be fully discovered and properly recognized 45 years after his death. The Wilhelm Wundt medal of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychologie was awarded to him 45 years after Wertheimer’s death. Importantly, there is something complex about his works. Understanding their roots has proved difficult for the psychological community. His Gestalt theory is the main work to have made him famous.
The people behind the early gestalt theories were the trio at whose centre was Wertheimer, the other two being Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler. The central focus of the Gestalt theory was the idea of grouping. It laid emphasis upon the higher order cognitive processes. Grouping can be understood as aspects of visual and other stimuli which make the subject interpret a particular problem or a specific perceptual event in a certain way. There are four important concepts related to grouping.
They are –
1. Proximity – elements that are close in space tend to be seen as one or a few objects.
2. Similarity- items having some similar characteristics grouped together.
3. Closure – complementary elements or the elements that complete some shape or object tend to be grouped together.
4. Simplicity – the tendency to organize the objects into simple figures.
Collectively, these four elements are known as the laws of organization. They are relevant to understanding perception and problem solving.
Wertheimer was mainly concerned with problem solving. He presented a Gestalt interpretation of problem-solving episodes of famous scientists like Galileo or Einstein and children presented with mathematical problems. According to Wertheimer problem solving was all about the ability to see the entire structure of the problem. The Gestalt Theory applies to all the aspects of human learning. Particularly it is relevant to perception and problem solving. Wertheimer’s theory also had a very strong influence on the works of Gibson. Wertheimer gave a classic example of the Gestalt theory in the activity of children finding the area of parallelograms. He showed that as long as the parallelograms are general figures the children apply the standard procedures to find their area. However, once they are provided with a figure with a novel shape and orientation, they are forced to understand its true structure in order to find its area.
Wertheimer’s Gestalt theory is based upon three main underlying principles:
1) Encourage the learners to understand the true nature of a problem.
2) The gaps or the incongruities can be stimulants for learning.
3) Instructions should be based upon the four laws of organization proximity, closure, similarity and simplicity.
The practical applications of the Gestalt theory can be found in the area of education. Wertheimer believed rote learning was learning without understanding. He contrasted it with productive thinking. The learning people acquire through productive thinking is not just remembered longer but can also be applied easily in real situations. Gestaltismsuggests learners should understand the true nature of a problem and try to associate its various elements. Excluding implicit assumptions is proper since they can be incorrect. In the area of concept and knowledge maps design, theGestalt law has been applied successfully to provide positive results. The influence of Wertheimer’s ideas has been felt in the works of several psychologists who followed him. His contribution to psychology is unique. Even if it was recognized late, it has earned him a distinct reputation.