Selected Gestalt Related Journal Articles

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Johan Wagemans, James H Elder, Michael Kubovy, Stephen E Palmer, Mary A Peterson, Manish Singh and Rüdiger von der Heydt (2012a)

A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perception: I. Perceptual Grouping and Figure-Ground Organization

Psychological Bulletin 2012

In 1912, Max Wertheimer published his paper on phi motion, widely recognized as the start of Gestalt psychology. Because of its continued relevance in modern psychology, this centennial anniversary is an excellent opportunity to take stock of what Gestalt psychology has offered and how it has changed since its inception. We first introduce the key findings and ideas in the Berlin school of Gestalt psychology, and then briefly sketch its development, rise, and fall. Next, we discuss its empirical and conceptual problems, and indicate how they are addressed in contemporary research on perceptual grouping and figure-ground organization. In particular, we review the principles of grouping, both classical (e.g., proximity, similarity, common fate, good continuation, closure, symmetry, parallelism) and new (e.g., synchrony, common region, element and uniform connectedness), and their role in contour integration and completion. We then review classic and new image-based principles of figure-ground organization, how it is influenced by past experience and attention, and how it relates to shape and depth perception. After an integrated review of the neural mechanisms involved in contour grouping, border ownership, and figure-ground perception, we conclude by evaluating what modern vision science has offered compared to traditional Gestalt psychology, whether we can speak of a Gestalt revival, and where the remaining limitations and challenges lie. A better integration of this research tradition with the rest of vision science requires further progress regarding the conceptual and theoretical foundations of the Gestalt approach, which is the focus of a second review article. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).

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Johan Wagemans, Jacob Feldman, Sergei Gepshtein, Ruth Kimchi, James R Pomerantz, Peter A van der Helm and Cees van Leeuwen (2012b)

A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perception: II. Conceptual and Theoretical Foundations.

Psychological Bulletin 2012

Our first review article (Wagemans et al., 2012a) on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of Gestalt psychology focused on perceptual grouping and figure-ground organization. It concluded that further progress requires a reconsideration of the conceptual and theoretical foundations of the Gestalt approach, which is provided here. In particular, we review contemporary formulations of holism within an information-processing framework, allowing for operational definitions (e.g., integral dimensions, emergent features, configural superiority, global precedence, primacy of holistic/configural properties) and a refined understanding of its psychological implications (e.g., at the level of attention, perception, and decision). We also review 4 lines of theoretical progress regarding the law of Prägnanz-the brain's tendency of being attracted towards states corresponding to the simplest possible organization, given the available stimulation. The first considers the brain as a complex adaptive system and explains how self-organization solves the conundrum of trading between robustness and flexibility of perceptual states. The second specifies the economy principle in terms of optimization of neural resources, showing that elementary sensors working independently to minimize uncertainty can respond optimally at the system level. The third considers how Gestalt percepts (e.g., groups, objects) are optimal given the available stimulation, with optimality specified in Bayesian terms. Fourth, structural information theory explains how a Gestaltist visual system that focuses on internal coding efficiency yields external veridicality as a side effect. To answer the fundamental question of why things look as they do, a further synthesis of these complementary perspectives is required. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).

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Riccardo Luccio (Editor)
The Legacy of Gestalt Psychology

Humana Mente Volume 17 (July 2011)

Riccardo Luccio: The Legacy Of Gestalt Psychology

Dejan Todorovic: What Is The Origin Of The Gestalt Principles?
Sergei Gepshtein, Ivan Tyukin, Michael Kubovy: A Failure Of The Proximity Principle In The Perception Of Motion
Cees van Leeuwen, David Alexander, Chie Nakatani, Andrey R. Nikolaev,
Gijs Plomp, Antonino Raffone: Gestalt Has No Notion Of Attention. But Does It Need One?
Raymond Pavloski: Learning How to Get From Properties of Perception to Those of the Neural
Substrate And Back: An Ongoing Task Of Gestalt Psychology
Riccardo Luccio: Gestalt Psychology And Cognitive Psychology

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Herbert Fitzek / Ralph Sichler (Hrsg. / Editors)

Gestalttheorie in der modernen Psychologie [Gestalt theory in modern psychology]
Journal für Psychologie, 13 (4/2005) [ ISSN 0942-2285]
135 pages; € 23,90 / 24,60 (Austria)
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Inhalt / Contents:

Ernst Plaum:
Qualität - Totalität - Komplexität - Alltagsrealität. Zum Erbe der Gestalttheorie in der Angewandten Psychologie und Diagnostik [Quality - Totality - Complexity - Reality of everyday life. About heritage of Gestalt theory in applied psychology and diagnostics]

Nadine van Holt & Norbert Groeben:
Das Konzept des Foregrounding in der modernen Textverarbeitungspsychologie [The concept of foregrounding in modern text processing psychology]

Rainer Kästli & Gerhard Stemberger:
Gestalttheorie in der Psychotherapie [Gestalt theory in psychotherapy]

Herbert Fitzek:
Gestaltpsychologie als Grundlage einer Methodologie der qualitativen Forschung - dargestellt am Gütekriterium "gegenständliche Relevanz" [Gestalt psychology as basis for a methodology of qualitative research - presented in connection with the quality criteria of 'subject relevance']


Pinna, Baingio (2005): The role of the Gestalt principle of similarity in the watercolor illusion. Spatial Vision 18, 185-207.
Abstract: The watercolor illusion presents two main effects: a long-range assimilative color spreading (coloration effect), and properties imparting a strong figure status (figural effect) to a region delimited by a dark (e.g. purple) contour flanked by a lighter chromatic contour (e.g. orange). In four experiments, the strength of the watercolor illusion to determine figure-ground organization is directly compared (combined or pitted against) with the Gestalt principle of similarity both of color and line width. The results demonstrated that (i) the watercolor illusion and, particularly, its figural effect won over the classical Gestalt factors of similarity; (ii) the watercolor illusion cannot be due to the coloration effect as suggested by the similarity principle; (iii) coloration and figural effects may be independent in the watercolor illusion, and (iv) the watercolor illusion can be considered as a principle of figure-ground segregation on its own. Two parallel and independent processes as proposed within the FACADE model (Grossberg, 1994, 1997) are suggested to account for the two effects of coloration and figural enhancement in the watercolor illusion.

Grisolia, Cesar Koppe (2005): Genes, genome and Gestalt. Genetics and Molecular Research , 4(1), 100 - 104.
Abstract: According to Gestalt thinking, biological systems cannot be viewed as the sum of their elements, but as processes of the whole. To understand organisms we must start from the whole, observing how the various parts are related. In genetics, we must observe the genome over and above the sum of its genes. Either loss or addition of one gene in a genome can change the function of the organism. Genomes are organized in networks of genes, which need to be well integrated. In the case of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), for example, soybeans, rats, Anopheles mosquitoes, and pigs, the insertion of an exogenous gene into a receptive organism generally causes disturbance in the networks, resulting in the breakdown of gene interactions. In these cases, genetic modification increased the genetic load of the GMO and consequently decreased its adaptability (fitness). Therefore, it is hard to claim that the production of such organisms with an increased genetic load does not have ethical implications. Click here for full tex PDF.


Ehrenstein, Walter H., Spillmann, Lothar, Sarris, Viktor (2003): Gestalt Issues in Modern Neuroscience. Axiomathes. An International Journal in Ontology and Cognitive Systems , 13(3):433-458
Abstract: We present select examples of how visual phenomena can serve as tools to uncover brain mechanisms. Specifically, receptive field organization is proposed as a Gestalt-like neural mechanism of perceptual organization. Appropriate phenomena, such as brightness and orientation contrast, subjective contours, filling-in, and aperture-viewed motion, allow for a quantitative comparison between receptive fields and their psychophysical counterparts, perceptive fields. Phenomenology might thus be extended from the study of perceptual qualities to their transphenomenal substrates, including memory functions. In conclusion, classic issues of Gestalt psychology can now be related to modern ''Gestalt psychophysics'' and neuroscience. Click here for full text PDF.

De Vecchi, Nicolo (2003): The Place of Gestalt Psychology in the Making of Hayek''s Thought. History of Political Economy , 35(1):135-162 Chow CC , Jin DZ , Treves A (2003): Is the world full of circles? J Vis, 2(8): 571-6
Abstract: The statistical arrangement of oriented segments in natural scenes was recently proposed to be indicative of a cocircularity rule. In particular, the probability density function of the relative position of two oriented segments was found to be maximal along fixed angles on the plane, consistent with the two segments being tangent to two points of a circle. Does this observation point to a prevalence of circles in natural scenes? Here we demonstrate that similar statistics can be obtained even when circles are not very common in visual scenes. The reason is that circles or near circular objects can heavily skew the distribution in favor of the cocircularity rule.

Wasserstein J. (2003): Gestalt concept of closure: a construct without closure. Percept Mot Skills, 95(3 Pt 1): 963-4
Abstract: This comment reviews the original Gestalt literature which introduced the concept of 'closure'. It is argued that the meaning of 'closure' was confounded in the source literature and, thus, the term connotes more than it denotes. Research based on different measures of this ambiguous construct inevitably may not always converge. (see also the A.S. Luchins comments on the Gestalt concept of closure)

Kressley, Regina A. (2003): Rediscovering a Missing Link: The Sensory Physiologist and Comparative Psychologist Mathilde Hertz (1891-1975). History of Psychology, 6, 379-396.
Abstract: Although her work was greatly respected by scholars from both psychology and biology such as Wolfgang Köhler, Max Wertheimer, and Karl von Frisch, the life and work of the German sensory physiologist and comparative psychologist Mathilde Hertz (1891-1975) have remained relatively obscure until recently. Her research represented a combination of biological principles fused with a psychological-phenomenological perspective. After a prolific career within a short time-span, Hertz's career came to an abrupt end in 1933, despite the intervention efforts of Max Planck. Hertz's personal and professional fate are in many ways representative for the field of comparative psychology in Germany prior to the middle of the twentieth century – both its history and its demise. Click here for full text PDF

Luccio, Riccardo (2003): The Emergence of Prägnanz: Gaetano Kanizsa's Legacies. Axiomathes 13 (3-4): 365-387.
Abstract: This paper is devoted to stress the importance of the contribution of Gaetano Kanizsa to contemporary psychology. His theoretical ideas have in many respects been truly seminal. In particular, are emphasized his distinction between the primary and secondary process, his criticism of the concept of Prägnanz, and his focus on self-organisation in a dynamic approach. To continue his work, the main task is to identify the rules and constraints that enable us to see the world as it appears. In the last years of his scientific work, his insight was that the non-linear dynamic approach may be the best way to achieve this goal, giving a more sound sense to the intuitions of Gestaltpsychologie. Unfortunately, he died before he could reap the fruits of this insight. Here are reviewed the first results that some among his direct and indirect pupils have obtained in this direction.


Ploog, D.W. (2002): Klaus Conrad (1905-1961). Hist Psychiatry, 13(51 Pt 3): 339-60
Abstract: Klaus Conrad (1905-1961) was an internationally known figure in the field of neuropsychology and psychopathology. He applied Gestalt psychology to give a better understanding of the aphasias, the symptomatic psychoses and incipient schizophrenia.

Bianchi, I., Savardi, U. (2002): Sulle forme minime dell''esperienza percettiva. Variazioni e contrarietà nel Ganzfeld. (Language: Italian). DiPAV, 2002, n.3, 147-160.
Abstract: The paper suggests a new view on the classical work by W. Metzger (1930), Optische Untersuchungen am Ganzfeld, that first experimentally investigated the perceptual experience for an observer in a homogeneous field of stimulation (Ganzfeld). The work is generally discussed for its implications in space perception theories. In the present paper, the reports referred by Metzger are approached from a different perspective, i.e. looking at their contribution in answering a fundamental question about the minimum perceptual organization: is it possible to definitively erase variation and opposition from our perceptual experience? The analysis reveals that variations developed along dimensions of opposition are still present to shape our perceptual experience even when an absolute invariance is reached at the stimulation level. Click here for full text PDF.

Engelmann, A. (2002): [Gestalt Psychology and Empirical Contemporaneous Science] A Psicologia da Gestalt e a Ciência Empírica Contemporânea Psicologia. (Language: Portuguese). Teoria e Pesquisa 18(1), Jan-Abr 2002, 1-16.
Abstract: Although there has passed ninety years since Wertheimer's first thought to demonstrate through Gestalt expla-nation experimental psychology problems, the Gestalt holistic approach continues now-a-days strongly in light. In looking at the world, the Gestalten is the first happening. Then, through divisions, parts can be formed. But these parts are always parts from a formative Gestalt and not basic elements. The Gestalt approach is not exclusively psychological but rather largely empirical, as mainly Wertheimer, Köhler and Koffka have demonstrated. The beginning was a motion visual experiment in which the stimuli were static. Later Gestalt problems could be physical electric charge structure in conductors, on one side, or a sociological super-psychological Gestalt composed of dancing couples and to musicians playing a samba, on the other side. Click here for full text PDF.


Brunnhuber, S. (2001): [Gestalt theory of V. v. Weizsäcker from the viewpoint of the psychology emotions] (Language: German). Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr, 69(7): 322-9
Abstract: The "Gestaltkreis" represents an important part in the psychosomatic theory-discussion, which can be understood as an incomplete contribution towards a general theory of emotions. Especially the relationship between perception and motion requires further consideration. Instead of a causal attribution, cyclic complementaries are important. Furthermore different degrees of organisation within the body-scheme and the affect-apparatus are mentioned.

Bakan, D. (2001): On the reality of the incorporeal intelligibles: a reflection on the metaphysics of psychology. Percept Mot Skills, 93(2): 531-40
Abstract: An argument is made for the existence of entities which are neither necessarily material nor mental as real and which are apprehensible and generatable by human beings. Money, color, triangle, natural and social law, instruction, danger, and invention are given as examples. It is the task of the science of psychology to grasp, conceptualise, and characterise the human being that lives in a world of incorporeal intelligibles and makes them as well. The tradition of Aristotle, Brentano and his two students, Freud and Husserl, and Wertheimer is identified favorably in this connection.

Hein, S.F., Austin, W.J. (2001): Empirical and hermeneutic approaches to phenomenological research in psychology: a comparison. Psychol Methods, 6(1): 3-17
Abstract: Empirical phenomenology and hermeneutic phenomenology, the 2 most common approaches to phenomenological research in psychology, are described, and their similarities and differences examined. A specific method associated with each form of phenomenological inquiry was used to analyze an interview transcript of a woman's experience of work-family role conflict. A considerable degree of similarity was found in the resulting descriptions. It is argued that such convergence in analyses is due to the human capacities of reflection and intuition and the presence of intersubjective meanings. The similarity in the analyses is also encouraging about researchers' ability to reveal meaning despite the use of different methods and the difficulties associated with interpreting meaning.

Gross G , Huber G (2001): [The psychopathology of delusion, the principle of psychonomy and biological theory of delusion] (Language: German). Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr, 69(3): 97-104
Abstract: The psychopathology of the delusional experiences of schizophrenic patients is analyzed on the basis of a sample of 119 drug-naive patients and 502 patients of the Bonn-Schizophrenia-Study. The phenomenology, the forms and themes of delusion, the delusional certainty, the impact on behaviour ("Realitätsbedeutung"), the levels of development of delusional perception and the meaning of the psychological working-up of the primordial delusional experiences ("Wahnarbeit") are described. The structure-dynamic and the 'gestalt'-psychological approaches of Janzarik and Kisker try to derive the phenomenon of delusional psychoses from the psychonomy of the emotional connections, as far as they cannot be explained as immediate symptoms of a somatic illness. [7]. The present study also shows that subjective experiences of schizophrenic patients, suffering from delusions, largely develop psychonomically according to the rules of the psychic motivational dynamic, and that the share of the comprehensible working-up and assimilation with regard to the "schizophrenic end-phenomena" [16] has been considered too little by the traditional psychiatry. But, there are in the view of the basic symptom concept, especially in process active stages, hints at a higher share of the somatic component as to the structure of delusional syndromes. Looking at the processes, determined by the psychic causality on the one side, and at the boundaries of "genetic understanding" [39] in the delusional psychosis on the other side, we tried to answer the question to what extent the delusional psychosis can be understood according to the "principle of psychonomy" [5,6], and, in what respect it seems to be "apsychonomic" and thereby presumably somatically founded. The inquiry yields starting points for a biological hypothesis of delusion, compatible with a multidimensional conception, that reveals understandable connections between delusion and biography and shows the reach of the "principle of psychonomy".


David J. Murray, Andrea R. Kilgour, Louise Wasylkiw (2000): Conflicts and mixed signals in psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and Gestalt psychology. American Psychologist , 55(4):422-426van der Veer, R. (2000): Tamara Dembo's European years: working with Lewin and Buytendijk. J Hist Behav Sci, 36(2): 109-26
Abstract: In this paper early work of the American rehabilitation psychologist Tamara Dembo (1902-1993) is brought to light. She was highly influenced by the concepts of Kurt Lewin's topological psychology, and she used the framework of topological psychology to analyze her investigations on animal behavior carried out with the Dutch zoopsychologist Frederik J. J. Buytendijk. These investigations have so far been ignored and are being described for the first time making use of archival materials.

Verstegen, I. (2000): Gestalt psychology in Italy. J Hist Behav Sci, 36(1): 31-42
Abstract: Graz gestalt psychology was introduced into Italy after World War I with Vittorio Benussi's emigration to Padua. His earliest adherent, Cesare Musatti, defended Graz theory, but after Benussi's premature death became an adherent of the Berlin gestalt psychology of Wertheimer-Köhler-Koffka. He trained his two most important students, Fabio Metelli and Gaetano Kanizsa, in orthodox Berlin theory. They established rigid "schools" in Padua and Trieste. The structure of Italian academics allowed for such strict orthodoxy, quite unlike the situation in America, where scientific objectivity mitigated against schools. In the 1960s, some of the students of Metelli and Kanizsa (above all Bozzi) initiated a realist movement-felt in Kanizsa's late work-that was quite independent of that of J. J. Gibson. Finally, more recently, Benussi and Graz theorizing have been embraced again, sentimentally, as a predecedent to Kanizsa-Bozzi.

Sharps, M. J., Wertheimer, M. (2000): Gestalt Perspectives on Cognitive Science and on Experimental Psychology. Review of General Psychology , 4(4):315-336

Helmchen, H. , Linden, M. (2000): Subthreshold disorders in psychiatry: clinical reality, methodological artifact, and the double-threshold problem. Compr Psychiatry, 41(2 Suppl 1): 1-7
Abstract: The introduction of modern operationalized classification systems for mental disorders has led to the issue of subthreshold disorders. Definitions for illness do not at the same time define health, e.g., in the sense of the World Health Organization (WHO) definition from 1947. The threshold not only to define disorders but also to define health is open to discussion. So-called subthreshold disorders require the definition of 2 thresholds. Empirical research has suggested that these "between-threshold disorders" are associated with increased disability and many other negative consequences. Part of the problem with subthreshold disorders is methodological in nature. Psychopathology and the Gestalt characteristic of psychopathological signs are ignored, and categorical instead of dimensional concepts are used. Thus, the distinction between syndromes and disorders, as well as the hierarchical structure of disorders, is not taken into account, and statistical problems with the prognostic power, which is dependent on the epidemiological distribution, are not solved. Variations in threshold definitions have important consequences for the individual and for society, be it because of the negative effects of "diagnostic labeling" or because of the costs to the health care system. Treatment options are presently rather insufficient, although modern sequential treatment algorithms and newer treatments (e.g., selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs] and Saint-John's-wort) promise interesting perspectives. Also in this context, self-help should become an important area of medical treatment research.


Westheimer, G. (1999): Gestalt theory reconfigured: Max Wertheimer's anticipation of recent developments in visual neuroscience. Perception , 28(1):5-15
Abstract: In the 1920s Max Wertheimer enunciated a credo of Gestalt theory: the properties of any of the parts are governed by the structural laws of the whole. Intense efforts at the time to discover these laws had only very limited success. Psychology was in the grips of the Fechnerian tradition to seek exact relationships between the material and the mental and, because the Gestalt movement could not deliver these, it never attained a major standing among students of perception. However, as neurophysiological research into cortical processing of visual stimuli progresses the need for organizing principles is increasingly making itself felt. Concepts like contour salience and figure segregation, once the province of Gestalt psychology, are now taking on renewed significance as investigators combine neural modeling and psychophysical approaches with electrophysiological ones to characterize neural mechanisms of cognition. But it would be perilous not to take heed of some of the lessons that the history of the Gestalt movement teaches.

Toccafondi, F. (1999): De Karl Bühler à Karl R. Popper . (Language: French). Philosophiques 26/2, Automne, 1999.
Abstract: Popper graduated under Bühler's direction in 1928. It's not part of the common view to say that Popper was strongly influenced, not only by Bühler's theory of language, but also by his psychology. The second chapter of Die beiden Grundprobleme der Erkenntnis shows clearly that one of the fundamental starting points for Popper's theory of mind was Karl Bühler. According to Popper, an « inductive prejudice » is contained in Carnap's epistemology : to restore a neutral point of view and to adopt an epistemology independent of psychology, it is necessary to show that, within the psychology, the deductivism is also possible, or thinkable. Popper provides some clear examples of deductive psychology and cites Kant's outlook, Johannes Mueller, the Wuerzburg's school (particularly by Bühler and Otto Selz) and Ernst Mach. The choice of such examples is very important for the understanding of the nature of Popper's training. It is significant, in particular, the absence of the Gestaltpsychology or of its exponents, such as Wertheimer, Koehler, Koffka etc. In fact, Bühler was in sharp contrast with the Gestaltpsychology of Wertheimer's school and between the Bühler's Vienna Institute and the Berlin Gestalt-psychologists there was a real rivalry. Popper -- who by the standard view is simplistically considered « a gestaltist psychologist » -- adopted completely the Bühler's point of view.


Arnheim, R. (1998): Wolfgang Köhler and Gestalt theory: an English translation of Köhler's Introduction to die physischen Gestalten for Philosophers and Biologists. Hist Psychol, 1(1): 21-6
Abstract: This article presents an English translation (from the German) of one of gestalt psychology's most significant documents, first published in 1920 in Wolfgang Köhler's Die physischen Gestalten in Ruhe und im stationären Zustand (The Physical Gestalten at Rest and in a Stationary State). The book it introduces both embodies Kohler's extension of gestalt theory into new domains and did much to ensure the broad impact of these ideas and approaches. This introduction itself well illustrates Köhler's own thought processes both as his ideas emerged and as he sought to convince his readers of their value. Despite the fact that they are more than 70 years old, Köhler's words have many implications for late 20th century discussions of the relationships among psychology, physiology, and physics.

Brüne, M. (1998): [The relevance of ethology for psychiatry] (Language: German). Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr, 66(7): 296-302
Abstract: Darwin's evolutionary theory was the starting point for ethology, associated with an impact on scientific psychiatry. Psychiatry and ethology have common scientific and methodological prerequisites: inductive and deductive methods and "gestalt theory" as a basis for observing and describing behaviour patterns with subsequent causal analysis. There have been early endeavours to anchor ethological thinking in psychiatry but this tendency did not prevail for the following reasons: on the one hand, the methodology of ethology was immature or not applicable to man, whereas on the other hand the dominating experiential phenomenological school of Karl Jaspers and Kurt Schneider stressed the privileged position of human thinking, perception, and feeling. These fundamental categories of human existence did not appear amenable to any causal ethological analysis. Psychiatry and evolutionary biology were linked in an atrocious manner during the Nazi regime, both being abused for propaganda purposes and genocide. More recently, there is a "reconciliation" of both disciplines. In psychiatric nosology, operational, behaviour-oriented diagnostic systems have been introduced; ethology has opened up for theories of learning; new subsections like human ethology and sociobiology have evolved. The seeming incompatibility of (behavioural) biological psychiatry and experiential phenomenological psychopathology may be overcome on the basis of Konrad Lorenz' evolutionary epistemology. The functional analysis of human feeling and behaviour in psychotic disorders on the basis of Jackson's theory of the evolution and dissolution of the nervous system may serve as an example. The significance of an "ethological psychiatry" for diagnostic and therapeutical processes of psychiatric disorders derive from prognostic possibilities and the analysis of non-verbal communication in therapist-patient-interactions, but have not yet been systematically investigated.