New Grouping Laws | Best Web Design

New Grouping Laws

The way in which items are grouped affects the speed with which we can extract information from a display.

New grouping laws


The graphic above shows the relative times taken to detect two neighbouring, identical shapes in various sequences of circles and squares, under different conditions. This is an example of a repetition discrimination task, developed by Palmer and Beck (2000) as a means of objectively quantifying the effect of grouping – an overarching principle within Gestalt Psychology – on perception.

The stimuli used in Palmer and Beck’s (2007) repetition discrimination task consisted of different arrangements of circles and squares. Participants were required to identify neighbouring identical shapes within a sequence where only one such pair was presented in a sequence.

They had to press one key if the pair was comprised of squares or another key if it was comprised of circles. Participants’ response times were then measured.

The aim of Palmer and Beck’s experiment was to test the dominance of the Gestalt law of proximity, which states that we perceive items as belonging to a group when they are closer to one another. If the law of proximity is correct – and dominant – then identical shapes should elicit faster reaction times when they are closer to each other, regardless of their relationship to other non-identical shapes.

The test sequences were arranged according to these laws, with shape pairs positioned so that their proximity was at varying distances.

Three groups were established:

target pairs were to be perceived as part of the same group by use of a grouping factor like ‘law of common region’ identical shapes were to be perceived as belonging to two distinct groups and the control condition where no biasing factor was applied as all shapes were equally spaced and belonged to no distinct, grouped pair.

Research Results

Results showed that response times were significantly slower when identical pairs were farther apart. However, the slowest response times were found in the condition where the matching pair of shapes were a smaller distance apart than in other conditions, but belonged to distinct, non-identical pairs.

Therefore, objects are not perceived as grouped primarily by their greater proximity, as non-identical pair formation was found to inhibit identical pair detection, even when the matching pair of shapes were in close proximity.

Three New Gestalt Laws

Findings from repetition discrimination tasks such as Palmer and Beck (2007) suggested the existing set of Gestalt laws did not sufficiently encompass all of the ways we group items in our environment. Stephen Palmer (1992; 1999) and Irvin Rock had previously proposed three more laws, or heuristics, to add to the established Gestalt laws of similarity and proximity, among others.

These “new” laws were the principle of common region, element connectedness and synchrony:

The Principle of Common Region

    • The principle of common region refers to the tendency to perceive items as belonging together when they share a distinct area or region.For example, pairs of dots appear to be grouped when they are surrounded by ellipses, even when they are actually closer in proximity to dots in neighbouring ellipses.

The Principle of Element Connectedness

    • The principle of element connectedness acknowledges the tendency to perceive physically connected items as being grouped.For example, dots that are joined by a straight line, giving the appearance of miniature dumbbells, are perceived as being grouped together, regardless of distance between the dots.

The Principle of Synchrony

  • The principle of synchrony addresses our perception of visual events occurring in unison as representing a group. For example, flashing bulbs are perceived as grouped even when they are arranged around unlit bulbs. This principle is similar to the existing Gestalt ‘Law of Common Fate’, which states that similarly moving items are perceived as grouped even when spaced apart.However, the principle of synchrony can be applied to static visual events, as light bulbs that are maintained in on or off positions, respectively, are still perceived as being grouped.
July 30, 2019

Design principles: Gestalt Psychology

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