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Psychologists have a saying: “What you see is what you get”. That is, we are unable to see things as they really are. An example of this is that when people think of chairs, they automatically picture them in the context of their surroundings. Which statement best defines the term principal?

This post will make you aware of the many ways our senses work together to deceive us and point out the dangers inherent in not being aware that things may not be what they seem.

1. Gestalt Principles:

At the heart of the Gestalt principles is a concept known as Prägnanz, which essentially means that people prefer simple solutions to complex problems. Examples of situations that demonstrate this principle are when you struggle to open a new roll of tape because it’s stuck together. You try everything you can think of and nothing seems to work. Then you notice there is (usually) a small indentation on the center part, so you press there and then continue to tear off the tape easily.

When people see some information they will tend to ignore all but the most salient parts “or those aspects most likely to be noticed.

2. Proximity

People will tend to group things together according to how they relate to each other. Examples of this are shown in the way we put books on a shelf in our homes. We tend to put those books we like the most or those by our favorite author on the top shelf, with those of lesser interest placed at lower levels. Or, if we want to remember a phone number easily, we might place it near something associated with it (like placing credit card numbers by the phone).

3. Similarity

Similarity refers to grouping things together based on how they relate or appear related. Sometimes individuals will assume that if two things are similar then they share other characteristics as well. This is called the “halo effect”. An example of this is when a child describes a person he knows as fair (since he assumes that the person must also be friendly and smart).

4. Proportion

Proportion refers to how elements in a picture relate to its whole. An example of this can be seen on any map, where one will tend to focus on the major areas (such as big cities). On such maps you don’t see all the small roads that lead off from main streets. There are some people who do however use proportion for nefarious purposes (like advertisers). They will tend to place the most important part of their message in the middle of a page.

5. Closure

Closure is a concept which refers to how we tend to see a whole image even when elements are missing. An example of this would be when we are presented with a picture of an animal but only given clues for half the body (leaving out legs and tail). We still have the impression that we can see the entire image. People have been known to think that alligator legs point toward their mouths (which they then tear apart on their quest for food).

6. Prägnanz

The last principle is known as Prägnanz, which means that people prefer simple solutions to complex problems. People are very good at solving problems of the same complexity.

This can be seen when students and students in training, who are given a mathematical test, at first try to solve it as best they can but then resort to memorization in order for them to get a passing grade. Eventually, though, they will tend to give up on the complicated math and just write down the answers verbatim. People believe that if something is simple then that means it cannot be solved.

7. Disambiguation

Disambiguation is a process whereby we try to make sense of what appeared ambiguous or confusing. In many instances, we will try to find meaning even when there was none intended by the author (or by ourselves).

An example of this is when we read a book, look at it from another’s perspective. Another example is when we take information from one context and place it in another without thinking about whether it makes sense there. An example will be when journalists say that someone was “slow to react”. The question is, “what does this mean exactly”? Does he have paralysis? Did his brain have a hard time processing information? Is he lacking blood flow to the brain?

8. Context

Context refers to the surroundings or background against which something appears. If we view an object out of context than what it might mean changes (as if the object itself were different).

An example of this is when we see a man riding a bike with a large wooden box on the back. The context may be that he is delivering large packages. However, if someone were to see the same man coming out of a cemetery, they might conclude that he was stealing bodies and transporting them away to sell them illegally.

9. Frame Resonance

Frame resonance refers to how we tend to take some aspects of something and ignore others when describing it. We also want to describe our experience in terms of things we already know about (or at least things that are familiar). This creates frames for how we view things.


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