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European alternatives to behaviourism

Gestalt = Configuration

The Gestalt psychologists studied perception. Observed that global properties of a whole object are often more salient in perception than are component parts.

Initial demonstration of Gestalt phenomena was done in 1890 by Christoph von Ehrenfels, Austrian student of Brentano: perception of a melody is more than the sum of its tonal elements (expt?).

Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) (1912) studied Gestalt movement (successive flashing lights) - not separate recognitions of flashing lights (movement is perceived even if the interval is too brief to allow eye movement or eye movement is not allowed). Movement is due to ``field properties'' of the brain.

The ``whole'' in Gestalt could be spatial or temporal - eg. Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967)'s research (1913-17) with chimpanzees on Canary islands. Problem of securing an out-of-reach banana (insight or aha! experience) - was later interpreted by Otto Selz as requiring step-wise organisation of problem, and influenced Simon's work in AI!

Also, Kurt Koffka (1886-1941)

Despite its striking phenomenological demonstrations, the Gestalt approach ultimately proved too speculative and was superceded by results in neuroscience and alternative computer models of perception (to do in Semester 2).

But the lasting legacy of Gestalt psychology has been: novel experiments and problems which were used by others, constructive aspect of thinking - in particular the role of restructuring in problem-solving, directedness of behaviour as opposed to trial-and-error, and generally, a top-down approach to cognition.

Many major proponents of Gestalt psychology (names ...) came to USA in the 1930s due to Hitler's rise to power and influenced American work.

eg. J.J. Gibson developed an ecological approach that Eleanor Gibson extended to perceptual development. They had been exposed to Gestalt psychology. Believed that information and invariances in the environment are available for ``direct perception.'' (But ecological approach is b-u not t-d?)

Sir Frederic Bartlett (1886-1969), (Remembering, 1932) British experimental psychologist during 1922-52 studied the role of subjective construction in memory.

Bartlett felt that the strict experimental methods of psychophysics and the content-free tasks of Ebbinghaus missed out the central aspects of remembering meaningful content. Memory is a social and cultural phenomenon. Experimental approach - subjects heard stories and were asked to recall and communicate it to someone else. He found systematic distortions in recall:

David Broadbent, a student of Bartlett, went on to pioneer attention research using multi-channel listening techniques (sec. [*], sec. [*]).

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) A 60-year career

Working with Théodore Simon in the Binet lab Piaget was intrigued by children's errors on standardised reasoning tests. Over the years he worked out an elaborate mentalistic theory that laid out stages of development and the internal processes responsible for children's movement through these stages. Founded the field of cognitive development.

Piaget's influence in N. America was delayed till the 1960s when researchers replaced his flexible ``revised clinical method'' with standardised procedures that largely confirmed his findings.

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) In the 1920s at the Institute of Psychology in Moscow used a cultural-historical approach in his empirical work on children's cognitive and linguistic development.

Alexander Luria (1902-1977) likewise in empirical work on language disorders and functions of the frontal cortex.

Vygotsky and Luria proposed that cognitive abilities emerge in interpersonal interactions before they assume a central role in private mental life (eg. thinking using language).

In the 1930s and '40s personality theory and psychoanalysis were also undergoing a conceptual shift. Freud's theory of inner drives, conflict and resolution had been a reaction against the dominance of rationalism in the 19th C. After him (with Anna Freud and others) the focus shifted to ``ego psychology'' which was more mentalistic in approach.

Clinical psychology, besides personality and aptitude assessment, included also hypnosis, emotion and Freud's psychodynamic theory.

next up previous contents
Next: Areas of American psychology Up: Psychology Lecture 1 Previous: Wane of ``structuralism'', rise   Contents