Three Later Approaches: Gestalt, Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism

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  • 0:00 20th Century Approaches
  • 0:28 Gestalt
  • 2:51 Psychoanalysis
  • 4:19 Behaviorism
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Bautista
How was psychology studied in the early twentieth century? In this lesson, you'll look at three common approaches of the early twentieth century and get a sense of the diverse routes psychologists can take as they study how the mind works.

Human behavior is varied and has many different motivations and explanations. Because of this diversity, the field of psychology developed many subfields, or different approaches to study. To begin to understand the different kinds of results each approach can yield, we'll take a look at three approaches that were common in the early twentieth century: Gestalt psychology, psychoanalysis and behaviorism.

Let's start with Gestalt, which is the German word for 'form.' Gestalt psychology was a primarily German movement that focused on how we perceive whole objects. This is a question that is still relevant today; when engineers try to build machines that can see and interpret visual images just like a human can, they run into a lot of problems trying to program the machine to recognize complex objects like faces. Humans are able to recognize faces and other complex things right away. We don't see a face as a group of shapes and colors; we just see a face.

Gestalt psychologists noticed and described the ways in which humans tend to shape ambiguous or incomplete stimuli into whole, coherent pictures. They call one of these ways emergence, or our ability to perceive a whole without first noticing its parts. Take a look at this picture; do you see the dog sniffing under the tree? Now try picking out his leg or his tail; it's very difficult to see only one piece of the dog because he's made up of disconnected lines and blots. Together, they create an impression of a dog that can only be seen as a whole. A similar concept is called reification, and it refers to the mind's ability to fill in an implied shape. When you look at figure A, you probably see a triangle even though there isn't one really there. In figure C, you see a sphere with spikes coming out even though, again, the sphere itself isn't drawn. In figures B and D, your mind fills in the rest of the missing shape to create a black worm curled around a white pole and a sea monster swimming through the water.

Gestalt psychologists were also interested in the way people tend to group the objects they see. They developed principles of grouping to describe some of these common ways; as an example, their Law of Similarity observes that people tend to group similar items together. A six by six square of dots is perceived in terms of rows rather than columns because all of the dots in a row are either black or white. Another Gestalt principle is the Law of Proximity, which observes that people tend to use how close objects are to one another to perceive a larger image. The figures to the left and right have the same number of dots, but the one to the left looks like a square and the one to the right looks like three tall rectangles because of the law of proximity.

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