Köhler, Wolfgang

Köhler, Wolfgang

(kö`lər), 1887–1967, American psychologist, b. Estonia, Ph.D. Univ. of Berlin, 1909. From 1913 to 1920 he was director of a research station on Tenerife, Canary Islands. Later he served as both professor of psychology and director of the Psychology Institute, Berlin. He came to the United States in 1934, where he became professor of psychology at Swarthmore College. Köhler is best known for his experiments with problem-solving in apes at Tenerife and the influence of his writings in the founding of the school of GestaltGestalt
[Ger.,=form], school of psychology that interprets phenomena as organized wholes rather than as aggregates of distinct parts, maintaining that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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 psychology. His writings include Gestalt Psychology (rev. ed. 1947) and The Mentality of Apes (rev. ed. 1948).


See his selected papers, ed. by M. Henle (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Köhler, Wolfgang


Born Jan. 21, 1887, in Tallinn; died June 11, 1967, in Enfield, New Hampshire. German psychologist, with M. Wertheimer and K. Koffka, one of the founders of gestalt psychology.

Köhler became a professor of psychology and philosophy at the universities of Göttingen and Berlin in 1922 and director of the Psychology Institute at the latter. In 1935 he moved to the USA, where he became a professor at Swarthmore College.

Köhler’s work at the zoological station on the island of Tenerife between 1913 and 1940 investigating the intellect of anthropoid apes attained wide renown. He came to the conclusions that (1) the rational behavior of the chimpanzee is of the same type as that of man, the difference lying only in the degree of complexity of the forms or structure of the behavior; (2) the structure of behavior consists in a certain integrated structure of action, or gestalt, that arises in connection with the visual perception of a situation; and (3) the nature of that perception is that of an integrated and simultaneous “grasp” of relationships (insight), irreducible to separate elements. Köhler’s rejection of the differences in principle between the intellects of man and anthropoids has since been subjected to criticism by psychologists.

Köhler’s work from the 1940’s through the 1960’s was devoted to an attempt to establish the structural identity of physical and psychic phenomena. Proceeding from an erroneous naturalistic point of view, he attempted to demonstrate the principle of the isomorphism of the brain’s physicophysiological structures and its psychic processes, in particular, by trying to infer psychic laws (the concept being approached in a gestalt sense) from an analysis of the brain’s electrical activity.


Diephysischen Gestalten in Ruhe und im stationären Zustand. Erlangen, 1920.
Psychologische Probleme. Berlin, 1933.
The Place of Value in a World of Facts. New York, 1938.
Dynamics in Psychology. New York, 1942.
In Russian translation:
Issledovanie intellekta chelovekopodobnykh obez’ian. Moscow, 1930.


Vygotskii, L. S. “Strukturnaia psikhologiia.” In the book Osnovnye techeniia sovremennoi psikhologii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930.
Prentice, W. C. H. “The Systematic Psychology of W.Köhler.” In the book Psychology, vol. 1. Edited by S. Koch. New York-Toronto-London, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Köhler, Wolfgang

(1887–1967) psychologist; born in Reval, Estonia. He was one of the early proponents of Gestalt psychology along with Kurt Koffka and Max Wertheimer. He emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1935. He became professor of psychology and then research professor of philosophy and psychology at Swarthmore (Pa.) College (1935–58). He developed a physiological theory of perception, which he extended to memory and attention.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.