What Are the Gestalt Principles? (2024)


Cognitive Psychology

An Overview of the Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization


Kendra Cherry, MSEd

What Are the Gestalt Principles? (1)

Kendra Cherry, MSEd

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Updated on April 22, 2024


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Developed by German psychologists, the Gestalt principles—also known as the Gestalt laws of perceptual organization—describe how we interpret the complex world around us. They explain why a series of flashing lights appear to be moving, for instance, and why we can read this sentence: notli ket his ort hat.

The six Gestalt principles or laws are:

  1. Law of similarity
  2. Law of prägnanz
  3. Law of proximity
  4. Law of continuity
  5. Law of closure
  6. Law of common region

What Are the Gestalt Principles? (3)

History of the Gestalt Principles

Have you noticed how alternately flashing lights, such as neon signs or strands of lights, can look like a single light that is moving back and forth? This optical illusion is known as the phi phenomenon. Discovered by German psychologist Max Wertheimer, this illusion of movement became a basis for Gestalt psychology.

According to Gestalt psychology, this apparent movement happens because our minds fill in missing information. Motion pictures are based on this principle, with a series of still images appearing in rapid succession to form a seamless visual experience.

Gestalt psychology focuses on how our minds organize and interpret visual data. It emphasizes that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

Based upon this belief, Wertheimer along with Gestalt psychologists Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka, developed a set of rules to explain how we group smaller objects to form larger ones (perceptual organization). They called these rules the Gestalt laws of perceptual organization.

It's important to note that while Gestalt psychologists call these phenomena "laws," a more accurate term would be "principles." Gestalt principles are much likeheuristics, which are mental shortcuts for solving problems.

Law of Similarity

The law of similarity states that similar things tend to appear grouped together. Grouping can occur in both auditory and visual stimuli.

In the image at the top of this page, for example, you probably see two separate groupings of colored circles as rows rather than just a collection of dots.

Law of Prägnanz

The law of prägnanz is sometimes called the law of simplicity. This law holds that when you're presented with a set of ambiguous or complex objects, your brain will make them appear as simple as possible.

An example of this can be experienced with the Olympic logo. When you look at the logo, you see overlapping circles rather than an assortment of curved, connected lines.

This Gestalt principle is also sometimes referred to as the law of good figure as the word prägnanz is a German term meaning "good figure."

Law of Proximity

According to the law of proximity, things that are close together seem more related than things that are spaced farther apart. Put another way, when objects are close to each other, we also tend to group them together.

To see this Gestalt principle in action, look at the image at the top of the page. The circles on the left appear to be part of one grouping while those on the right appear to be part of another. This is due to the law of proximity.

Law of Continuity

The law of continuity holds that points that are connected by straight or curving lines are seen in a way that follows the smoothest path. In other words, elements in a line or curve seem more related to one another than those positioned randomly.

Law of Closure

According to the law of closure, we perceive elements as belonging to the same group if they seem to complete some entity. Our brains often ignore contradictory information and fill in gaps in information.

In the image at the top of the page, you probably see the shape of a diamond. This is because, according to this Gestalt principle, your brain fills in the missing gaps in order to create a meaningful image.

Law of Common Region

The Gestalt law of common region says that when elements are located in the same closed region, we perceive them as belonging to the same group. What does this mean?

Look at the last image at the top of the page. The circles are right next to each other so that the dot at the end of one circle is actually closer to the dot at the end of the neighboring circle. Despite how close those two dots are, we see the dots inside the circles as belonging together.

Creating a clearly defined boundary can overpower other Gestalt laws such as the law of proximity.


The Gestalt principles help us understand some of the ways in which perception works. Research continues to offer insights into our perception and how we see the world.These principles play a role in perception, but it is also important to remember that they can sometimes lead to incorrect perceptions.

It is also important to recognize that while these principles are referred to as laws of perceptual organization, they are actually heuristics or shortcuts. Heuristics are usually designed for speed, which is why our perceptual systems sometimes make mistakes and we experience perceptual inaccuracies.

6 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Mungan E. Gestalt theory: A revolution put on pause? Prospects for a paradigm shift in the psychological sciences. New Ideas Psychol. 2023;71:101036. doi:10.1016/j.newideapsych.2023.101036

  2. Metwally E. Achieving the visual perception and Gestalt psychology in Sultan Hassan Mosque building. Open J App Sci. 2021;11(01):106554. doi:10.4236/ojapps.2021.111.003

  3. Dresp-Langley B. Principles of perceptual grouping: Implications for image-guided surgery. Front Psychol. 2015;6:1565. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01565

  4. Peng P, Yang KF, Li YJ. A computational model for gestalt proximity principle on dot patterns and beyond. J Vision. 2021;21(5):23. doi:10.1167/jov.21.5.23

  5. Kim B, Reif E, Wattenberg M, Bengio S, Mozer MC. Neural networks trained on natural scenes exhibit Gestalt closure. Comput Brain Behav. 2021;4:251-263. doi:10.1007/s42113-021-00100-7

  6. Corbett JE. The whole warps the sum of its parts: Gestalt-defined-group mean size biases memory for individual objects. Psychol Sci. 2016;28(1):12-22. doi:10.1177/0956797616671524

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What Are the Gestalt Principles? (4)

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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