Gestalt Laws of Perception as applied to Camouflage

Brad Paisley may have said it best when he said “ain’t nothin’ [that] doesn’t go with camouflage.”

We’ve all been walking down the street, on our way to some more important task or place, when we’ve noticed the guy wearing what appears to be an entire forest printed on the pattern of his shirt, usually accompanied by a beaten up pair of leather boots and a can of chew, walking the other direction. It’s likely that any of us (and likely most of us) experienced an introspective moment of mature and adult consideration, thinking “ha! I can still see you!”

What we failed to consider in that moment of introspection and solemn consideration of the brain’s ability to perceive is specifically where the odd amalgamation of tree branches, leaves, and pine cones in resplendent 2-D would in fact be useful in hiding from Gestalt grouping laws. As humans, it’s important to remember: if we don’t have customization, what do we have?

In all seriousness, consider this image:

US Army Selects Scorpion Camouflage Pattern (aka: MultiCam variant)

The above images are examples of a less effective (left) and more effective (right), universally applicable patterns that are designed to help make the wearer more difficult to spot in any natural environment. Specifically, the pattern on the left is the recently replaced Universal Camouflage Pattern, formerly the pattern used by the US Army. The pattern on the right, as some may know, is its replacement, known as Scorpion W2, or more officially, Operational Camouflage Pattern.

Consider the above patterns from the vantage point of a Gestalt psychologist; a camouflage pattern is designed to exploit multiple Gestalt Grouping Laws, which we will consider. These laws will be discussed in the order listed in the Course Content for Lesson 3.

Proximity: The human mind tries to group similar items by proximity, so the camouflage pattern is designed to never look like what it is- a pattern- to the casual eye, thus deflecting the brain’s natural ability to see it as a grouping of similar blobs or squares printed on a jacket or pants.

Good Continuation: Possibly the most functional part of camouflage, the pattern serves to break up the outline of the human form, which is usually starkly recognizable amidst any surroundings. The pattern is designed to break up the human form, blocking the casual viewers ability to see the wearer by looking for a human shape.

Connectedness: Similarly to the previous paragraph, a good camouflage pattern will inhibit the minds ability to see that the blobs of color are all connected to the same outfit, and therefore to each other.

Common Fate: Probably the best example of a camouflage pattern’s limitations, movement cannot be easily concealed by a printed pattern on fabric. However, in the right environment, more effective forms of camouflage, like ghillie suits, can help inhibit the minds ability to process the moving bush as a person for just a bit longer than it normally would take, giving the wearer a critical, split second advantage.

Pragnanz: The purposes of camouflage being what they are, the successful pattern attempts to prevent the observer from being able to immediately interpret the wearer as a human-shaped pattern. While it’s not the same as invisibility, the idea is to keep the brain processing longer, giving the wearer the ability to strike first. The pattern is designed specifically to avoid any shapes that could be associated quickly, or as uniform in any way.

Overall, Brad Paisley, if he were being literal, would be only marginally correct. Camouflage doesn’t truly hide the wearer or make them invisible. Our thoughts while walking down the street and passing someone replete in Mossy Oak brand clothing (“Ha! I can still see you!”) are off as well, if only considering the environ around us. It’s not an invisibility cloak; it’s anti-Gestalt engineering.

3 thoughts on “Gestalt Laws of Perception as applied to Camouflage

  1. clh5783

    This post is by far my favorite, I like that you incorporated different terms/people to insure that not only one audience understands your point. this effectively illustrates Gestalt’s Laws of Perception. In the Navy our main working uniform is very similar to that of the photo you provided on the left except in different hues of blue as opposed to blue and brown. I believe the idea of it was to disguise yourself in “water” but its very clear that one would never mistake that digital navy blue and white camo with water, nor would one try to “hide” in the water as it would make rescuing personnel in a man overboard situation very difficult. However a more smooth design like the one on the right could cause quite the confusion in a body of water since ideally the water is smooth and not “digital”. As you stated though movement would immediately make for recognizing and spotting someone in that camouflage much easier making it an anti-Gestalt process, but it calls for difficulty in breaking apart the pattern and viewing the individual areas thus allowing the form of the human body to be more “hidden”. This was a great blog post and extremely easy to understand.

    Works Cited

    Goldstein, E. (2011). Introduction to Cognitive Psychology. In Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

  2. Taelor Poletti-rokosz

    Gestalts Laws of Perception were designed as an answer to how the brain breaks apart and views things in one’s environment. For primal reasons, the ability to detect things that were out of place, different in one’s environment, and objects placed in certain patterns/ways was important for survival. The advent of camouflage was a response to the need to defy visual perception laws as a need for survival. However, the use of camouflage predates military use and even recreational use of camouflaged attire. The advent of human beings using camouflage came from watching the environment and nature and realizing that certain species were able to survive by their ability to blend in and fade away into the background; for instance certain owls are able to blend into the tree they are perched in. Taking cues from our environment we applied these concepts to attire in order to provide a false visual perception through good continuation, proximity, connected-ness, and pragnanz. The use of these precepts allowed for the advancement of predatory hunting and warfare, especially guerrilla warfare. However, I think the most striking importance of Gestalts Laws and the advent of camouflage is that it led to a deeper understanding of visual cues and perception. Until Gestalt put forth his precepts for visual perception, we all understood that sometimes we see things in our background and other times we don’t; there was never a strict understanding of why. Gestalts Laws allowed for human manipulation of objects and people in the environment.
    Oh and as a lover of Brad Paisley and Country music, I love that you incorporated that into your post; made it enjoyable to read.

    Lesson 3 in course content.

  3. Andrew Natsuki Nardella

    Your blog post was very informative. This is a great example of Gestalt’s Laws of Perception. When I think of camouflage I can only picture it as being noticeable because I have never seen anyone wear it for the correct purpose. I have only witnessed people wearing camouflage casually. When you talk about the Laws that help camouflage achieve its purpose it makes sense as to how it actually works for the person wearing it to actually blend in to their environment. Another way to describe the use of proximity is the camouflage and the objects around it become visually grouped together because of how close together they are, that it makes the camouflage visually become part of the object it is near. The Law of similarity also groups objects but not because of proximity but because of the similar appearance. This occurs with the camouflage colors and the environment around it. When we see a bunch of leaves and someone with similar color camouflage is laying under them we group all the colors together in that environment. We will not notice them separately we will see them as part of the leaves not someone wearing camouflage.

    Goldstein, E. (2011). Introduction to Cognitive Psychology. In Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed., p. 59-61). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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