Gestalt theory

In university I have been studying psychology in relation to ICT in primary education. As part of this we have been looking a visual perception, so I decided to look at two main theories: Gestalt Theory and J. J. Gibson. This blog details the work of Gestalt theory in relation to education.

What is Gestalt theory?Gestalt Theory is a psychology term which means unified whole. It is the study of visual perceptions, which describes how to organise these visual elements into groups. There are five defined principles which are similarity, continuation, closure, proximity, figure and ground.

Similarity: This occurs when objects look similar and can often be perceived as a group or pattern. Anomally can occur within similarity. Anomally is where an object is emphasised because it is dissimilar to the others.


Continuation: This is when the eye is compelled to move through one object and continue to another object.

Closure: This occurs when an object is incomplete or a space is not completely enclosed. If enough of the shape is indicated, people perceive the hole by filling in the missing information.

Proximity: Proximity occurs when elements are placed close together. They tend to be perceived as a group. When the squares are given close proximity, unity occurs. While they continue to be separate shapes, they are now perceived as one group.


Figure and Ground is where the eye differences an object from its surrounding area. A shape or object is naturally perceived as a figure, where the surrounding area is perceived as the ground or background.


How does this relate to education and children’s learning?This makes teachers think about how they are teaching children within the resources they used. Children can get many misconceptions from pictures; what you did not want or realise they were getting from it. It would be important to talk and get discussions going about what children see to get them more aware and more visually perceptive. This could be completed in a cross-curricular way or as part of PSHE or speaking and listening. Teachers may already be doing it without realising it already! The interpretations could tell you a lot about the children’s thinking, thoughts, understanding and psychology which could help you support their learning.

The Gestalt Principles (Date Unknown) (accessed 25/02/2013)