Perception is defined as a primary mental ability in which we organize our sensations, meaningfully interpret them, and thereby form a mental representation of our world. The organization of sensory data is the beginning of the perceptual process. The world would appear confusing if we do not put together and organize the information available to us through our millions of receptors. The process by which we structure the input and create perceptual coherence is called perceptual organization.
In the early 1900s, the Gestalt psychologists first studied systematically several aspects of perceptual organization. Wertheimer, Koffka, and Kohler, the gestalt psychologists in Germany, have extensively studied and experimented on the phenomenon of perceptual organization. They have discovered a number of laws or principles relating to the organization of perception. Gestalt means the total, the whole or a configuration.
According to the Gestalt psychologists, an individual organizes a multitude of environmental stimuli into meaningful structures and forms. He perceives patterns of stimuli rather than random collections of individual stimuli. In other words, the person integrates disconnected parts of sensory information into a meaningful structure, which results in the perception of a whole. Therefore, perception of an object or event is something more than the sum total of its sensory input.
For example, when we look at a chair, we perceive the chair as a whole even though we do not see all parts of the chair at one time. In fact, the bits of sensory information that we receive from the chair are disconnected. We organize those bits of information into a meaningful whole by using some principles of organization.
In order to explain perception as an organizational process, the Gestalt psychologists have discovered a set of principles, which are popularly known as Gestalt laws of perceptual organization. Although the laws of perceptual organization are most obvious for visual perception, the Gestalt psychologists have observed that the laws of organization also apply equally well to other sense modalities. Let us take an example of auditory perception. Suppose, you consecutively tap on the desk for three times, take a pause and tap again for three times. You will observe that taps organize into two units of sound on the basis of nearness in their occurrence. Similarly, a number of persons standing close to each other are visually perceived as a group. You perceive the test of a curry, rather than the taste of different vegetables of which the curry is prepared, “the above examples point to the fact that our perception is an organized activity.
The Gestalt laws of perceptual organization are based on three groups of laws. They are:
1. Laws of Grouping
2. Figure-Ground relationship
3. Goodness of Figures