Research internship in Psychology
The things that make up our visual world are not only based on the visual input one receives, but also on how this input is processed and organized by the viewer. In 1935, Koffka introduced the Law of Prägnanz, which states that each organizational process will tend to the most prägnant or ‘good’ Gestalt possible under the prevailing conditions. How can this tendency towards the most prägnant Gestalt be realized, and what are the conditions determining the possibilities? Two antagonistic, but complementary forces seem to underlie this tendency towards the best Gestalt possible. Whereas simplification of a Gestalt can be described as removing unnecessary details or weakening certain features, complication can be described as making certain features of a Gestalt stand out.
We investigated whether the importance of a feature for discrimination within a specific (task) context, influences whether simplification or complication of that feature occurs. We hypothesized that a feature which is important for discrimination will be complicated and a feature which is not important for discrimination will be simplified. In an online experiment, participants were asked to reconstruct one out of four figures using basic shapes, such that someone else would be able to recognize it among the other figures. For each figure, two dimensions were defined, one of which contained more variability across the four presented figures than the other. In the close context, target and distractors differed only quantitatively on those dimensions, whilst the figures were qualitatively the same. In the far context, target and distractors were qualitatively different. We expect that in the close context, the most variable dimension will be complicated, whilst the other one will be simplified. In the far context, we expect simplification of both dimensions. These results could demonstrate the contextual dependence of perceptual and cognitive organizational tendencies like simplification and complication, more specifically the relevance or irrelevance of certain stimulus features for discrimination within a specific task context.