This image, “Visual Gestalt”, is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by Jennifer Turner.

Towards a measure of good Gestalt

The law of Prägnanz or the law of good Gestalt is a commonly mentioned principle in the literature on perceptual organization. This law states that we will organize our perceptual field in such a way that it has the highest level of Prägnanz or good Gestalt possible given the current conditions (Jäkel et al., 2016; Wagemans, in press).

Notwithstanding the common use of the concept of Prägnanz in the literature, it has often been only vaguely defined, and definitions of the concept vary considerably (e.g., Froyen, Feldman, & Singh, 2015; Koenderink, van Doorn, & Pinna, in press; Wagemans, in press). The law of Prägnanz, however, can only truly advance theory and research if Prägnanz or good Gestalt is clearly defined and can be accurately measured (for a similar statement, see Jäkel et al., 2016). A good Gestalt is proposed to be both simple—it can be “fully seen at a glance” (Koenderink et al., in press, p. 1)—and unique—outstanding, distinctive, “ausgezeichnet” (Wagemans, in press); “nothing can be added or omitted without causing a qualitative change” (Koenderink et al., in press, p. 1). This combination of simplicity and uniqueness is seen as rather uncommon, as simplicity tends to coincide with similarity and uniqueness with complexity (Koenderink et al., in press). This project will address the quest for both a clear definition and a good measure of Prägnanz, encompassing both the aspects related to simplicity and uniqueness as well as the biological relevance of the concept (cf. Koenderink et al., in press).


Froyen, V., Feldman, J., & Singh, M. (2015). Bayesian hierarchical grouping: Perceptual grouping as mixture estimation. Psychological Review, 122, 575–597. doi:10.1037/a0039540

Jäkel, F., Singh, M., Wichmann, F. A., & Herzog, M. H. (2016). An overview of quantitative approaches in Gestalt perception. Vision Research, 126, 3–8. doi:10.1016/j.visres.2016.06.004

Koenderink, J., van Doorn, A., & Pinna, B. (in press). Measures of Prägnanz? Gestalt Theory.

Wagemans, J. (in press). Perceptual organization. In J. T. Wixted (Series Ed.) & J. Serences (Vol. Ed.), The Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience: Vol. 2. Sensation, Perception & Attention. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.