What does “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” mean?

Gestalt Psychology Read more from
Chapter Major Movements in Psychology

This phrase is one Gestalt psychology’s most famous contributions. The Gestalt psychologists believed that there are properties of the whole that exist independently of their component parts. Consider that human beings are composed of cells and tissues. At a smaller scale we are composed of atoms. But can we ever explain our loves, our personalities, our prejudices, and even our taste in music solely by studying the behavior of our atoms? Or by studying our cells? The Gestaltists would say no. There are qualities of the whole that cannot be reduced to the qualities of its parts. Although Gestalt theory is best known for its work with perception, this core concept has been applied to almost every aspect of psychology. It has influenced Piagetian developmental psychologists, cognitive psychologists, and even psychotherapists.


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