Word of the Day: Gestalt

By Daniel Scocco

A gestalt is a configuration or system so unified that it cannot be described by the sum of its individual parts.

In Germany, a country that is home to Mercedes-Benz and the autobahn, life in a car-reduced place like Vauban has its own unusual gestalt. (NY Times)

Now comes a fresh, noble perspective from Leander Kahney, news editor at Wired.com and a longtime follower of Apple and its mercurial co-founder. Rather than float on the periphery of the Jobs gestalt, he’s decided to get inside the man’s head. (USA Today)

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6 Responses to “Word of the Day: Gestalt”

  • Steve Parmenter

    Oops I re-posted my comment onto the appropriate page. Please delete this copy.

  • Erik

    In Swedish, ‘gestalt’ can mean what you wrote as well as ‘figure’, ‘character’.

  • Val

    The German “Gestalt” in common usuage also refers to “figure” and “character”. For example, you could say something like “Dunkle Gestalten irrten im Wald herum”, which translates into, “Dark (sinister) figures (characters) roamed the forest”. The term “Gestalt” as it is used in English is based on German/Austrian Gestalt Psychology. In “Gestalt Psychology” the term “gestalt” refers to something figure-like (but still abstract) that is more than its individual parts, i.e., something emerging on top of the individual parts/attributes, like a melody that emerges from individual tones played at a certain speed.

  • Celine

    Have you ever defined another psycholgical term used quite a lot especially in research literature. The word is mediate as in such and such mediated the results. I have looked up the word but the sense I get is that different people use it in different ways.

  • Claire

    I think the definition needs to be broadened…per Celine…Gestalt is know in psychology….a gestalt thought is an “ah ha” moment. I think…..

  • Val

    Have you ever heard of the term mediator in a social or societal context? Maybe that’s a good example to start off. A mediator stands in between two (opposing) parties. Let’s say a municipality plans on building a new airport. The place they want to build it on is close to a residential area and the people living there have all kinds of worries (about the noise exposure, influx of people…). The municipality could of course just build it there (ignoring all these people’s fears) but in most democracies this is usually not the way to handle these things. So they start off with a mediation to settle the dispute. In the mediation you have the two main parties (the people from the residential area = party A; and the people from the municipality = party B) and the mediating party (some kind of professionals: social workers, psychologists, or lawyers with expertise in mediating; party M). Different from a court setting, the two main parties make some concessions (not only maximizing their own interest) in that they agree on the terms of the mediation. What it boils down to is: everything the two parties say (A to B or B to A) will have to “go through” party M. Thus, party M is said to mediate between the two main parties, which usually has the effect that the whole dispute will be a little de-emotionalized and more constructive.

    Okay‚Ķin your context “mediate” also means “go through”. You have different variables that cause an effect in other variables. Quite often these effects are not direct but “go through” other variables, i.e., they are mediated. You can do mediation analyses to look if one variable mediates between two other variables. For example, you could have the three variables “day of the week”, “willingness to donate blood”, “amount of blood donated”. The “day of the week” can have a direct effect on the “amount of blood donated” by different people (e.g., less on weekends, etc.) but very likely it will also be mediated (“go through”) the specifif attitude “willingness to donate blood”. So, “”willingness to donate blood” can explain a lot in the variance (variation) of the “amount of blood donated”.

    Hope this helps.

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