Gestalt Factor: Past Experience or Habit.

Looking at you. Original painting by Schamil Gimajev. East Side Gallery, Berlin.

It has been a long time since I wrote anything on Gestalt factors, but here we go again.

The posts on gestalt factors seems to go down really well on the blog. The reasons for this could be many, and my suggestions for an easy explanation goes the this: gestalt factor are interesting to read about; many gestalt factors are very simple to understand and could give a huge impact when put properly to use. Gestalt factors are are not well knows in contexts that deal with communication. Be it communication as such, or more specific areas of communication like advertising and photography. I mention advertising and photography specifically because those are, so far, the areas that examples have been gathered from. By that, I do no imply that gestalt issues are of low relevance to other areas of communication. Certainly not.

Let me briefly remind  you that the inspiration for the gestalt theme on this blog it the article “Laws of Organization and Perceptual Forms” written by Max Wertheimer 1923. Or, more precisely, do I refer  to one particular chapter in that article. It is a good starting point for anyone, who wants to learn and know about the basics of gestalt theory, and probably the most famous article of them all.  So be my guest.

The gestalt factor of past experience or habit is interesting for more than one reason. Not only is it a factor of importance for the reading of perceptual forms, but to some extent it poses a threat to all the other gestalt factors. Why is that? Well, if the factor of experience or habit is a gestalt, and that experience goes against the perception of similaruty, of proximity, of good curves, etcetera, what will then happen to these  gestalt factors? Do they simply go away? Are they longer valid? Are they overridden?

In principle they could be, but since we still have a gestalt theory that stresses that there are several gestalt factors (and not only one: the factor of experience or habit), I think we should understand this last factor not as a threat, but as an opportunity. Meaning that if experience or habit is important (and everyone knows is it), we need to add that option as a tool to the barebones toolbox. Right!

Let me be more specific about this factor. Wertheimer: “Another Factor is that of past experience or habit. Its principle is that if AB and C but not BC have become habitual (or associated) there is then a tendency for ABC to appear as AB/C”. I am sure you got that, if not then read it a couple of times.

Wertheimer continues: “Unlike the other principles with which we have been dealing, it is characteristic of this one that its contents A, B and C are assumed to be independent of the constallation in which they appear. Their arrangement is on principle determined merely by extrinsic circumstances (e.g. drill)”.

And; “There can be no doubt that some of our apprehensions are determined in this way. Often arbitrary material can be arranged in arbitrary form and, after a sufficient drill, made habitual”.

The question is, however, in how many real world situations are you on arbitrary ground? Not many, I would say? (To be continued..).


Other important posts on gestalt factors; introduction; factor of closure; factor of direction, factor of good curve, factor of proximity; factor of similarity.

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