Major Movements in Psychology

Gestalt Psychology

How did the holistic view of Gestalt theory go against the scientific worldview of the time?

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, when psychology was coming into its own as a science, there was tremendous admiration for the accomplishments of physical science. This was a time of extraordinary technological changes. The telephone, the motor car, the moving picture—all of these were relatively recent inventions and all of them radically changed society. Science was exploding across the industrialized world and there was a widely shared assumption that the only worthwhile way to understand reality was through the methods used in the physical sciences. And these methods largely reflected an analytic approach to reason.

In other words, the way to understand complex phenomena (such as human psychology) was to break it down into its smallest parts (such as stimulus-response associations). Complexity in and of itself had no interest; it simply reflected a grouping of smaller parts. The whole could be reduced to the sum of its parts. Gestalt theorists challenged this reductionist assumption. They were interested in synthetic reasoning. How do you put the parts back together again? How do you make a whole out of the relationships between parts? Their core position was that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Psychology Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App