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WERTHEIMER, MAX. Born Apr. 15, 1880, in Prague; died Oct. 12, 1943, in New York. German psychologist; one of the founders and principal theoretician of Gestalt psychology. Professor at the University of Frankfurt am Main (from 1929) and, after his emigration, at the New School for Social Research in New York (from 1933).
In 1921, together with the German psychologists K. Koffka and W. Köhler, Wertheimer founded the journal Psychologische Forschungen, in which works of Gestalt psychologists were published. In his first experimental work, which was devoted to a study of the perception of movement (1912), Wertheimer established that the characteristics of the structure of perception observed by the researcher cannot be explained by the character of the separate elements of the situation perceived but rather require consideration of the connection between these elements and the entirety of the situation. Indeed, the direction of research toward the entire structure (gestalt) of the perceived image constituted the basic principle of Gestalt psychology.
Wertheimer extended the principles of Gestalt psychology from the field of perception to other psychological processes, in particular to thinking, which he understood as a process of successive alteration of gestalts—various ways of viewing a situation—under the influence of naturally arising or specially assigned problems. According to Wertheimer, the resolution of a problem occurs when the structure of the perception of a situation coincides with the objective structure of the situation itself. In accordance with this, Wert-heimer perceived the mechanisms of thinking in actions of structuring and restructuring the image of the situation in accordance with the problem to be solved rather than in associations. These notions of Wertheimer, more fully set forth in Productive Thinking, which is considered a classic, marked an epoch in the psychological investigation of thought. The subsequent development of psychology demonstrated that one of the most vulnerable spots in Wertheimer’s conception was the fact that the explanation of the mechanisms of thought was given without regard to the social-historical nature of thought activity.
WORKS“Experimentelle Studien über das Sehen von Bewegung.” Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 1910/11, vol. 61, fasc. 3/4.
“Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt.” Psychologische Forschung, 1921, vol. 1; 1923, vol. 4.
Productive Thinking. New York, 1945.
REFERENCESAntsyferova, L. I. “Geshtal’t-psikhologiia.” In Sovremennaia psikhologiia v kapitalisticheskikh stranakh. Moscow, 1963.
Iaroshevskii, M. G. Istoriia psikhologii. Moscow, 1966. Chapter 12.
N. G. ALEKSEEV