Gestalt Factor: Closure

So, let’s move on then.

Coming up is the third gestalt factor (my order): the factor, or law, of closure. Described by Max Wertheimer in the 1920’s and more potent than ever. You’ll see.

If the two first factors: proximity and similarity are need-to-know for communicators, the factor of closure is the holy grail. It’s adds the opportunity of involving your reader. Or viewer. Or whoever.

There are different interpretations of what the meaning of closure, is. Is it a reference to the process of closure, or is it the end result?  On this blog closure will refer to both, depending on the context. Leaving out the rest of possible interpretations.

Commenting upon experiments with some very basic visual objects Wertheimer says: “From an inspection of Figs. 20-22 we are led to the discovery of still another principle: The Factor of Closure. If A, B, C, D are given and AB/CD constitute two self-enclosed units, then this arrangement rather then AC/BD will be apprehended”. (A Source Book of Gestalt Psychology, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1974, page 83).

How do I understand this? Well, in two ways:

1) That which is “closed” (self-enclosed units) are more easily, and rapidly understood then that which is not “closed”. A finished story is more easily understood than an open ended one.

2) There is an inherent strive, in perception, towards “closing” of units. If they are not closed from the outset perception will do its work to close them. Gaps missing will be filled in.

Do you find this a bit cryptic. Don’t despair. I am sure that your interpretation of Wertheimer’s wording is as good as mine.

Anyway here comes an example of how visual closure works. That might bring us s bit closer.


What is that you see in this picture? Is it a spread of black and white dots? Do you find closure working for you? Do you see the dog? (I am sorry, that I don’t know who owns the copyright to this picture). 

Let’s move this factor one step up. Let’s introduce a distinction between the physical closure and the the mental closure. Does closure work on both levels? I think so. Look at these pictures:

Physical Closure vs Non-Closure: 

 Maria 01 500

A pretty easy picture to apprehend to use Wertheimers notion. Not much fuzz and possible deviations here. On the other hand, you may say that this is a bit boring and not that an imaginative picture. I would say that the image has physical closure. (Copenhagen, Denmark 2003).


Maria plus 500

What happens here? Same lady, but a man added. More like half a man. Some would dismiss this image because it is not physically closed, and blaming the photographer for not being in his right mind. Others might say, that this is a much more interesting image just because physical closure is lacking. Gives you an opportunity to close it yourself. Addresses you in another way then the first image. More demanding. (Copenhagen, Denmark 2003).


Mental Closure vs Non-Closure:  

La Defence 500

This image has closure, in my opinion. Both physically and mentally. Like the first picture it is self-contained. The young couple (please remark the effect of both proximity and similarity) don’t need anybody else. There are no elements apparently reaching out of the image. You don’t need to fill any gaps. Mental closure is in place. (Paris, France 2003).


British Museum 500 

As opposed to this image where self-containment is lacking. Puts a bit of a strain on you to close this one. Do you want to close it, or can you live with this kind of open ended solutions? You might say that this photograph lacks mental closure. I do. (London, UK, 2003). 


How to use:  

How to use the gestalt factor: closure?  

Go for closure, or go for non-closure. Depending on your communication objectives.

I use pictures to illustrate, but it could as well be texts. News articles would typically be closed acts while fiction could be non-closed acts (this could be argued). Political statements, some might say, would better be acts with an apparent closure (so that people will understand them rapidly). Poetry can live with non-closure demanding your engagement and phantasy.

What about advertizing?  If your objectives are product or consumer information, then keep messages closed. If your objectives are image, then non-closure might do better. 

By the way, did you know:

The need for closure varies across individuals, situations, and cultures. A person with a high need for closure prefers order and predictability and is decisive and close minded. This person also feels discomfort from ambiguity (Hiel & Mervielde 2003). Someone rating low on need for closure will express more ideational fluidity and emit more creative acts (Chirumbolo et al., 2004)”.

For more on this, go here

Happy Holiday 🙂 .


2 thoughts on “Gestalt Factor: Closure

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