Classics in the History of Psychology

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Perception: An introduction to the Gestalt-theorie.
Kurt Koffka (1922)

First published in Psychological Bulletin, 19, 531-585.

[Editor's note: Unless otherwise noted, much of this information is derived from the 2nd edition of E. G. Boring's History of experimental psychology, the 3rd edition of G. Murphy's Historical introduction to modern psychology, C. Murchison's Psychological Register (3 vols.), or L. Zusne's Names in the history of psychology.]

Max Wertheimer (1880-1943). Founder of Gestalt school of psychology. Studied under the supervision of Oswald Külpe (1862-1915) in Würzberg, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1904. Taught at for a time at Frankfurt, where he met Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967), who were both assistants to Freidrich Schumann (1863-1940), one-time assistant to both G. E. Müller (1850-1934) and Carl Stumpf (1848-1936). Wetheimer conducted experiments on the perception of motion, publishing his famous research on the phi-phenomenon (in which particular patterns of blinking lights give rise to the impressions of motion) in 1913, the first Gestalt publication. Moved to Berlin in 1916, where he conducted experiments on thinking. With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Wertheimer was forced to move to the United States in 1933, where he took up an appointment at the New School for Social Research in New York. He died there in 1943. His book, Productive Thinking was published posthumously in 1945 (an enlarged edition appeared in 1959).

Originated. The first Gestalt publication was Wertheimer's 1913 study of the phi-phenomenon (see above).

Robert M. Ogden (1877-1959). American undergraduate student of E. B. Titchener's (1867-1927), graduating from Cornell in 1901. Took his Ph.D. with Oswald Külpe at Würzburg in 1903, and returned to the United States to take up duties at Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas, and finally Cornell in 1916. Ogden invited Koffka, whom he had met in Külpe's lab, to write an article for Psychological Bulletin for an American audience on Gestalt-Theorie. The present article was the result. Ogden also translated Koffka's The growth of the the mind in 1924, the same year that he arranged for him to spend a year at Cornell. Koffka was offered a permanent position at Smith College in Massachusetts in 1927. (See Henle, M. (1984). Robert M. Ogden and Gestalt psychology in America. Journal of the history of the behavioral sciences, 20, 9-19.)

Psychichal. Koffka means here only what we would call the "psychological," not paranormal phenomena.

Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967). Co-founder of Gestalt psychology. Studied at Tübingen, Bonn, and ultimately, Berlin, where he earned his Ph. D. under Carl Stumpf (1848-1936) in 1909 studying the psychology of sound. while at Berlin, he also studied with the famed physicist, and developer of quantum thoery, Max Plank (1858-1947). Köhler became an assistant with Stumpf's former student, Friedrich Schumann (1863-1940) at Frankfurt, where he met Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) and Koffka. In 1913 he moved to the island of Teneriffe (off the northwestern coast of Africa) to study ape cognition. World War I prevented his return to Germany until 1920, during which time he managed to publish The mentality of apes (1917, 2nd ed. 1924, trans. 1925). Appointed to replace G. E. Müller (1880-1943) in Göttingen in 1921, but took Carl Stumpf's position at Berlin in 1922 instead. He moved to the United States in 1934, where he took up an appointment at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He published several more books, including The place of value in a world of facts (1938) Dynamics in psychology (1939), and Gestalt psychology (1947). With the deaths of Wertheimer and Koffka, he became the primary voice of Gestalt psychology after World War II. He was elected President of the American Psychological Association in 1959.

Georg Elias Müller (1850-1934). German experimental psychologist. Born near Leipig, where he studied from 1868-1869. He then moved to Berlin to continue his studies, but soon volunteered for the Prussian army. In 1871, he returned to his studies, moving in 1872 to work with Hermann Lotze (1817-1881) at Göttingen. He was appointed to a position himself there in 1876, where he stayed, for the most part, for the next 40 years. He developed a theory of memory, using Hermann Ebbinghaus' (1850-1909) techniques with nonsense syllables, in which forgetting is caused by interference from later-learned material, rather than from the "fading away" of an original memory trace. He also espoused a version of Heinrich Ewald Hering's (1866-1948) "opponent-process" theory of color vision, the main rival to Hermann von Helmholtz's (1821-1894) "trichromatic" theory.

Rosa Heine. (b. 1885). Received her Ph.D. at Göttingen (19??). Married David Katz (19??), one of the first victims of Nazi anti-Jewish legislation, being dismissed in 1933. Together they wrote Conversations with Children (English edition, 1936). She also wrote the preface to Katz's posthumously-published Studien zur experimentellen Psychologie.

L. Schlüter [no information available, please inform the editor if you have some]

Cortex. The outer layer of the brain where many "higher" mental functions are thought to occur.

Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932). Austrian philosopher and psychologist. Studied with the founder of early phenomenologists and "act psychologists" Franz Brentano (1838-1917), in Vienna, and his student, Alexius Meinong (1853-1920), in Graz. Returned to Vienna to take up teaching duties in 1890, and then was appointed to Prague as a professor. He developed the idea of Gestaltqualitäten -- configural qualities of groups of objects not reducible to any of the elements themselves. His most famous example was the melody, which sounds the same even if all the notes are changed by transposing it into a new musical key. The character of the melody is a Gestaltqualität that seems to exist over and above the qualities of the consituent notes alone. The Gestalt psyhchologist disagreed with von Ehrenfels mainly in that they believed the Gestalt to be primary above the parts -- defining the parts themselves -- rather than just another piece on par with the parts. (See Köhler, W. (1959). Gestalt psychology today. American Psychologist, 14, 727-734.)

Alexius Meinong (1853-1920). Austrian philosopher and psychologist. Studied with phenomenologist and "Act psychologist" Franz Brentano (1838-1917) in Vienna, then moved to Graz to found Austria's first psychology laboratory in 1894.

Oswald Külpe (1862-1915). German psychologist. Student of G. E. Müller's (1850-1934) in Göttingen and of Wilhelm Wundt's (1832-1920) in Leipzig, with whom he earned his Ph.D. in 1886. After serving for eight more years as Wundt's assistant, he moved to Wüzburg in 1894, where he was given a professorship, and established the "Würzburg school." In the first decade of the 20th century, he became embroiled in a debate with Wundt about whether Bewusstseinslagen ("conscious attitudes" such as doubt, certainty, affirmation, and dissent) should be considered to be a new type of conscious content (in addition to senations and feelings). Near the end of his life he taught at Bonn (1909-1913) and Munich (1913-1915), where he died of influenza at the age of 53.

Vittorio Benussi (1878-1927). Student of Alexius Meinong's (1853-1920) at Graz. Conducted research primarily on perception.

Carl Leo Rahn(b. 1881, Poland). Obtained his Ph.D. at University of Chicago in 1912. Taught at Minnesota (1911-1913), Wyoming (1914-1915), and Illinois (1915-1023). Conducted research on sensation and animal behavior (horse). Later turned to psychoanalysis, and published Science and the religious life: A psychophysiological approach in 1928. There is a brief mention of Rahn in Boring's History of Experimental Psychology (2nd ed., 1957, p. 402), as a critic of E. B. Titchener (1867-1927) in the Würzburg tradition.

Weber's law. Named after the German psychophysicist, Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795-1878), who discovered that the just-noticeable differences in the intensity of various stimuli are proportional to the intensity of the original stimulus. For instance, if a 100 watt light must be increased by 5 watts in order for the difference to be perceptible, then an increase of 50 watts would be necessary for the change in a light of 1000 watts to be perceptible. The law was generalized by Gustav Theodor Fechner (1803-1887), to read that the psychological response (R) to any change in the physical intensity of a stimulus (S) is proprtional to the logarithm of of that change: R=k log(S). This generalization is sometimes called the Weber-Fechner Law.

Carl Stumpf (1848-1936). German philosopher and psychologist. Born in Bavaria. In 1865 he became a student of the phenomenologist, Franz Brentano (1838-1917) at Würzburg, who sent him to take his doctorate with Hermann Lotze (1817-1881) Göttingen, which he received in 1868. After two more years of study at Würzburg, he took up teaching duties at Göttingen, where he stayed until, again, returning to Würzburg in 1873, this time as a professor. Thereafter he taught at Prague, Halle, and and Munich, until he landed the professorship at Berlin in 1894. His best-known work is in the psychology of sound and music. In 1904 he was apointed to head the commision that looked into the case of Clever Hans, a horse that could apparently count and do arithmetic. During his career, he supervised a number of people who would go on to become famous in their own rights: Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), the founder of modern phenomenology; Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967) and Kurt Koffka, co-founders of Getalt psyhchology; and Freidrich Schumann (1863-1940), who would later supervise Koffka and Köhler as well.

Hans Cornelius (1863-1947), German philosopher. Studied at Munich under Carl Stumpf (1848-1936). He was generally supportive of the "act psychology" of Alexius Meinong (1853-1920). Apppointed to Frankfurt, where he worked with Friedrich Schumann (1863-1940), and supervised Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno, the founders of "Critical Theory."

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909). German psychologist. Received his doctorate at Bonn in 1873, after having served in the Franco-Prussian war. Aimed to adapt Gustav T. Fechner's (1803-1887) psychophysical methods to the study of higher mental processes. He was a volunteer at Berlin, where he made his Habillitation in 1880. He received a chair in Breslau in 1894, where he stayed until 1905. His most important experiments were on memory, in which he was the first to use lists nonsense syllables to control for the effects of meaning on remembering. He also did work on color vision and on intelligence testing. He died of pneumonia at the age of 59.

Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927). Founder of the "structuralist" school of psychology. Born in the south of England. After five years at Oxford, he moved to Leipzig in 1890 to study under Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). After earning his doctorate in 1892, he moved to Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) to advocate what he took to be the "Wundtian system" of psychology in North America; a method of introspection on the elementary contents of consciousness such as sensations feelings. (Wundt real interests have since been revealed to have been far broader than Titchener's method allowed.) Although he never referred to himself as a "structuralist," the name was given him by the "functionalists" at Chicago viz., John Dewey (1859-1952), James Rowland Angell (1869-1949), and Harvery A. Carr (1873-1954) -- to distinguish their interests in mental processes from his in mental states.

Friedrich Schumann (1863-1940). German psychologist. Assistant to G. E. Müller (1850-1934) from 1881, and to Carl Stumpf (1848-1936) from 1894. Established himself in Frankfurt in 1910. His best-known research was on memory and on space-perception. Supervised both Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967) and Koffka, and provided the environment in which they met Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) and Gestalt psychology was born, though he did not become an advocate of Gestalt himself.

Friedrich Karl Seifert (b. 1891). Earned Ph.D. at Munich in 1914. Taught at Munich from 1922 forward. Began as a Gestalt psychologist. Turned to characterologie in the late 1920s.

Erich R. Jaensch (1883-1940). German psychologist. Took his doctorate with G. E. Müller (1850-1934) in 1908. He conducted research on visual acuity and eidectic imagery.

Karl Bühler (18??-19??). German psychologist. Affiliated with the Würzburg school, led by Oswald Külpe (1862-1915). Taught at Bonn, Munich, Dresden, Vienna, Oslo. Moved to the United States just before World War II to work at Minnesota and LosAngeles. Conducted investigations in "nonsensory" thought processes and psycholinguistics. He taught such luminaries as psychologist Egon Brunswick (1903-19??) and philosopher of science Karl Popper (1902-199?). (See Brock, A. (1994). [Title] Canadian Psychology, 35, 319-329.)

Johannes Lindworsky (1875-1939). Earned Ph.D. in 1915 at Munich under the supervisions of J. Fröbes. Appointed to Cologne in 1920, and then to German University in Prague in 1928. Sympathized with the Würzburg position on imageless thought, and studied the concept of will. Published Der wille in 1919, and Experimentelle psychologie in 1921 (English trans. 1931).

Samuel Walker Fernberger (1887-1956). Earned Ph.D. in 1912 at Pennsylvania under F. M. Urban. Appointed to Clark in 1912, and Pennsylvania in 1920. Editor of Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Experimental Psychology, and American Journal of Psychology. Published Elementary General Psychology in 1931.

Warner Brown (1882-1956). Earned Ph.D. in near 1908 at Columbia under R. S. Woodworth. Appointed to Berkeley in 1908. Conducted research on perception, learning, and memory.

Margret Floy Washburn (1871-1939). Earned her PhD. in 1894 at Cornell under E. B. Titchner. Appointed to Wells College in 1900, Cornell in 1902, Cincinnati in 1903, and finally settled at Vassar in 1908. President of the APA in 1921. She published over 200 articles and reviews, mostly on animal behavior, and the book Animal mind in 1908. She attempred to reconcile introspectionism and behaviorism, arguing that consciousness results from a balance of excitation and inhibition of motor discharge.

J. Borak [No information available. Please inform the editor if you have some.]

Dactyllic. Dactyl is a kind of poetic metrical "foot." It consists of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllabes (as in the word "parallel"). Other meterical feet include iambic (one unaccented syllable followed by one accented), trochaic (one accented syllable followed by one unaccented), and anapest (two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one).

Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828-1906). Norwegian poet and playwright. He is known for emphasizing character over plot, and depicting people in psychological conflict, often torn between love and the demands of society. From 1864 to 1891 Ibsen travelled around Europe, living in Rome, Munich, and Dresden. It was during this time that he wrote his most famous plays, A doll's house (1879), The wild duck (1884), and Heda Gabler (1890). When we dead awaken (1900) was written after Ibsen had returned to his native land. It is a highly symbolic play about a man who is spiritually dead because he has denied love.

Wilhelm Peters (b. 1880). Earned Ph.D. at Leipzig in 1904. Thereafter, he took many short appointments, finally settling in Jena in 1923. Published dozens of articles, many on child and educational psychology.

Wilhelm Specht (b. 1874). Earned M.D. at Jena in 1898. Published articles mostly on neurology, psychiatry, and psychopathology.

Edgar Rubin (1886-1951). Denmark's most famous psychologist. Earned Ph.D. at Copenhagen in 1915, and was appointed there the following year. Spent much of his career in Göttingen. Most famous for developing the idea that perceptions are often organized into figure and ground. The figure is the focus of attention, and is seen in detail. The ground is in the periphery of attention, lacks detail, and is not usually even perceived as an object. For instance, in the picture to the left, published by Rubin in 1915, one sees either the two faces as figure against an indistinct white background, or a white vase as figure against an indistinct black background. One does not see the faces and the vase simultaneously; the picture "switches" between the two aspects. He was also and independent co-discoverer of the phenomenon of "paradoxical warmth", in which a cold stimulus gives rise to the sensation of heat.

Joseph Jastrow (1863-1944). Born in Warsaw, Jastrow travelled to the United States to study as Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore Maryland) at the time that G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924) was the head of psychology. He received his doctorate in 1886, and then travelled to Wisconsin to establish a psychological laboratory. He conducted much research in psychophysics, and did much to bring experimental psychology to the public's attention.

Jastrow's Editor. A picture first presented in Joseph Jastrow's (1863-1944) Fact and fable in psychology (1900) in which one can read the word perfectly clearly despite the fact that the lines of the display are not arranged in the shapes of the perceived letters. In some sense, then, the objects perceived are not "real."

W. B. Pillsbury (1872-1960). Student of E. B. Titchener's (1867-1927). Wrote books on the psychology of language, reasoning, atention. Conducted research on the kinesthetic and sutaneous senses. President of the APA in 1910. Founding chair (1929) of the Department of Psychology at University of Michgan.

Erich von Hornbostel (1877-1936). German psychologist. Earned his doctorate in Berlin in 1900 under Carl Stumpf (1848-1936). According to Boring's History of Experimental Psychology (2nd ed., 1957, p. 366), he "deserves much of the credit" for Stumpf archive of recordings of primitive music. He collaborated with Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) on sonar research during World War I.

Lillien Jane Martin (b. 1851). Earned A.B. from Vassar in 1880. Appointed to Stanford in 1889. Attended Göttingen from 1894-1898, but does not seem to have received a Ph.D. from there. Published a book with G. Müller in 1899. Granted and honorary Ph.D. from Bonn in 1913. Published articles on aesthetics, suggestion, paranormal phenomena, and mental hygiene.

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). Considered by many to be the "father" of experimental psychology, though his interests ranged far beyond psychology proper. In the 1850s he studied medicine at Heidelberg, and was appointed assistant in physiology. In 1858 Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) came to Heidelberg, where he would stay until 1871. He and Wundt knew each other, but there seems to have been no intimate collaboration. In 1864 he was made a junior professor. His early publications were on physiology and, later, perception. In 1867, he began lecturing on "physiological psychology," by which he meant psychology pursued by the same scientific means as physiology; ratehr than what we today think of as physiological psychology; closer, perhaps, to what we today would call experimental psychology. The text based on these lectures, Physiological psychology, was first published in 1873-4. Wundt move to Zurich for one year, only to be appointed chair of the philosophy department at Leipzig in 1875. Although he had experimental laboratory space from the start at Leipzig, it was in 1879 that he founded his famous psychological laboratory, reputed to be the first in the world. Here he trained a series of students and assistants who spread experimental psychology to North America and the rest of Europe. In 1881, he founded the journal Philosophische Studien (Philosophical Studies)to publish the lab's research. Although he is well-known for having used a method of introsepction in which the elementary contents of consciousness were said to be revealed -- a method that was developed and put forward in America by his student, E. B. Titchener (1867-1927) as the "Wundtian system" -- the real Wundt's approach to psychology was far broader than that. In the 1880s he published books on logic, ethics, and general philosophy. In 1896 the Outline of psychology appeared, and the first decade ofthe 20th century saw him produce 10 volumes of Volkerpsychologie (Folk psychology, a work of cross-cultural psychology and anthropology).

Adhémar Maxmillian Maurice Gelb (1887-1936). Earned his Ph.D. in 1910 at Berlin under C. Stumpf. Took many short appointments, settling in Frankfurt in 1929. Worked with K. Goldstein on the effects of brain-damage on perception (esp. color vision) and language. Also studied figure-ground relationships, and discovered the "Gelb phenomenon" in which a spot of colored light projected on a region of figure shows a higher detection threshold than an identical one projected on a region of ground.

.David Katz (1884-1953). Earned Ph.D. in 1906 at Göttingen under G. Müller. Appointed to Göttingen in 1906, and Rostock in 1919. Dismissed by the Nazis in 1933. Took up and appointment at Stockholm in 1937, where he stayed until 1953. Best known for his work in color perception, published as an article in 1911, and as a book-Der Aufbau der Farbenwelt-in 1930 (Eng. Trans. 1935). Also conducted research on touch, child psychology, and hunger.

Frederich Kenkel (b. 1885).

Erich Lindemann (b. 1900). Earned Ph.D. from Giessen in 1922. Went on to an M.D. from Heidelberg in 1926. Took an appointment at Iowa St. in 1928. Published articles on psychiatry, physiology, and psychpharmacology.

Giessen. The university at which Koffka taught in 1922.

L. Hartmann [No information available. Please inform the editor if you have some.]

Talbot fusion. Named after the English physicist and photographer, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), who discovered that when the cycle of a flickering light reaches so high a rate that it perceived as being continuous, its apparent brightness is equal to the mean of the brightness of the complete flicker cycle. Also known as the Talbot-Plateau law, after Talbot and the Belgian physicist Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau (1801-1883).

Heinrich Ewald Hering (1866-1948). German physiologist. Studied with Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795-1878) and Gustav T. Fechner (1803-1887) at Leipzig. Proponent of a nativist theory of spatial perception. Developer of the "opponent-process" theory of color vision, the main rival to Hermann von Helmholtz's (1821-1894) "trichromatic" theory:

Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894). German physicist, physiologist, and psychologist. Born near Berlin. Attended the Prussian medical academy from 1838 to 1842, training to be a army surgeon. Studied informally during this time with the physiologist Johannes Müller (1801-1858), foudner of the doctirine of specific nerve energies. In 1847, Helmholtz gained renown as a physicist for developing the law of conservation of energy. He specifically extended this doctrine to living things, showing that the energy expended by an animal is less than that consumed by the same animal. This was a great blow to the doctrine of vitalism (the idea that living things have a special "life force" over and above the physical forces that work upon them) because it showed it to invoke superfluous energies. Appointed professor of physiology at Königsberg in 1849, where he began to study sensation and perception, publishing the first volume of his Optics in 1856. After a two-year stint in Bonn, he moved to as professor of physiology Heidelberg in 1858, where he published two more volumes of his Optics (1860, 1866) and his book on the psychology of sound and music (1863). In 1871 he was appointed professor of physics in Berlin, where he stayed until his death. He is best known in psychology for his "trichromatic" theory of color vision (in which he argued that photosensitive cells in the retina are differentially sensitive to red, green, and blue light) but his interests and influences ranged far beyonf this one theory.

Stephan Witasek (1870-1915). Austrian psychologist. Student of Alexius Meinong (1853-1920). Advocate of the Gestaltqualitäten school in the early 20th century. Research was mainly on problems of perception.

Fovea. The part of the retina in which the photoreceptive cells are most densely packed.

Vestibuler organs. Fluid-filled semi-circular canals in the inner ear responsible for balance.

S. Garten [No information available. Please inform the editor if you have some.]

Aubert phenomenon (A-P). Named after the German physician Hermann Aubert (1826-1892). who discovered that when an observer of a vertical tilts his or her head, the line appears to tilt as well.

Cyclopean eye. The theoretical point of view of the whole visual system, midway between the two actual eyes.

P. Busse [No information available. Please inform the editor if you have some.]

Harry Levi Hollingworth (188-1956). Earned Ph.D. in 1906 from Columbia under James McKeen Cattell. Appointed to Barnard College in 1909, wehre he remained until 1946. President of the APA in 1927. Wrote 25 books and 75 papers on a wide range of topics, from educational and vocational psychology, to thought, neuroses, and character.

Indifference point (I-P). The point along some continuum that represents neutrality (e.g., neither bright nor dim, neither red nor green, neither loud nor soft).

Alois Höffler (dates?). Identified by Sajama and Kamppinen (1987, A historical introduction to phenomenology, pp.43-44) as the first person to clearly distinguish between a mental act, the act's object, and the act's content. This allowed phenomenology to explain two crucial troublesome phenomena: (1) intentional acts (e.g. thoughts) about nonexistent object such as unicorns (content but no object) and (2) distinct intentional acts about the same object, such as thinking about the planet Venus as both the morning star and the evening star (two contents, one object).

Richard Pauli Conducted research in the 1930s into the effect of will on work performance, extending Kraeplin's studies of ability to a kind of characterological analysis. Drafted into the Wehrmacht as a psychologist at the beginning of World War II (Source: Geuter, U. (1992). The professionalization of psychology in Nazi Germany (R. J. Holems, Trans.). Cambridge University Press. (Original work publish 1984)) [No further information available. Please inform the editor if you have some.]

F. Oetjen [No information available. Please inform the editor if you have some.]

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947). German psychologist. Studied mathematics and physics at Berlin, then became interested in the Gestalt psychology. Conducted research on the dynamics of memory. He became an assistant at Berlin in 1922, and a junior professor in 1929. Developed his ideas into "Field Theory," in which elements of electrodynamics and topology (e.g., vectors) were brought to bear on a wide array of the issues in psychology (e.g., personality, development, action, interpersonal relations). Moved to the United States in 1932, teaching at Stanford, Cornell, Iowa, and MIT. Most famous for applying field theory to problems of group dynamics and social psychology.