Monthly Archives: September 2015

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.

Operant Conditioning

A man by the name of B.F. Skinner changed the way we looked at behaviors. As a graduate student at Harvard (Goldstein, 2011, p. 10) he presented an approach that is still used today. This was the time of behaviorism, in American psychology, when psychologists were shifting their focus to the study of behavior from the study of the mind.

I have worked in schools and for private companies as a behavior technician. A behavior technician works with those who have behavioral issues. I would observe their behaviors and record data. From that data I would identify the functions of the behaviors and come up with a plan to decrease the undesired behaviors and reinforce the positive behaviors. As a behavior technician I have used the works of B.F Skinner and his idea of operant conditioning. B.F. Skinner introduced operant conditioning, which observed how the use of reinforcement strengthens behavior. (Goldstein, 2011, p. 10) As a behavior technician I used operant conditioning to help increase the positive behavior and decrease the undesired behavior.

I worked with a student who had verbal outbursts, yelling or screaming above speaking level, every one and a half minutes. This behavior was very disruptive to their opportunity to learn while in class. To strengthen the appropriate behavior they were reinforced every 45 seconds for having a quiet voice, which meant no verbal outbursts. The verbal outburst behavior began to decrease slightly by the end of the day. This reinforcement was continued for weeks until the outbursts were close to one every two hours.

There are other additions to the study of behavior that B.F. Skinner has given us since the 1938 introduction of operant conditioning, but this is where it all stems from. (Goldstein, 2011, p. 11)  Operant conditioning allows us to increase the desired behavior with reinforcement. When the undesired behavior is not reinforced it tends to decrease. This technique is used in classrooms that have students with behavioral issues, residential programs with those with intellectual disabilities and with those with autism. It is not limited to just these populations but these are just a few to name that staff are increasing positive behavior using operant conditioning.



Goldstein, E. (2011). Introduction to Cognitive Psychology. In Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed., p. 10-11). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

The Decline in a Mood and a Mind

“I’m not hungry.” she utters. Little does she realize, she’s not eaten in three days. Her face looks inquisitive but her eyes seem blank. Dementia is slowly settling in.

Dementia is a progressive neurological disease denoted by significant cognitive decline (2015). It is characterized by impairment of memory, communicative language, reasoning, and judgement. The hippocampus is one of the first areas to be affected, and this is why memory issues are key characteristics of the disease (2015). Issues such as depression, thyroid issues, alcoholism, or vitamin deficiencies exacerbate the disease.

She had lost her dog, her son, and her house within 3 years. It was a devastating loss and a significant change in her reality. We had all believed she was as fit and mentally stable as can be. There were no abrupt changes in personality, no issues with memory, and certainly no decline in physical capabilities. With time, It seemed that the more she worried over her losses, the more she forgot and the more she withdrew herself.

After a couple of MRI’s, memory test, and family histories, it was determined that she has dementia. None of the family was quite aware of what that meant, nor were we aware of what the implications were. What would happen to her in the future? What would change about her? How would we take care of her? We were reassured on how to keep her in good shape and good standing. As it turns out, “Use it or lose it” means something in cognitive neuroloscience. In order to keep her brain functioning we were advised to engage her in activites. The more cognitively challenging, the better we were told.

Ever since her diagnosis, we have been fighting a battle with keeping her engaged. Crossword puzzles and word searches no longer hold her interest. We continue to go on daily walks and ask her questions to keep her recall. So far, those have been our only resources. Luckily, she’s drinking ensure and taking vitamins. Any opportunity that I can, I attempt to improve her mood and restore a bit of familiar happiness.

It is very underestimated just how affective depression is in reducing our mental states. Cognitive decline can induce or exacerbate depression, but it can also work in the reverse order. Professor of Neuropsychology at Rush University, Dr. Robert Wilson states that these subtle changes in behavior can actually be early predictive symptoms of the disease (Bowers, 2014). It is imperative to treat depression to prevent the development or progression of cognitive decline in senior citizens. Doing so can implicate an improvement in the prognosis of the disease.



Bowers, Elizabeth. (2014, October). Depression as a Risk Factor for Dementia. Everyday Health, retrieved from:

(2015). What is Dementia? Alzheimers Association, retrieved from:


The Moon’s Size is Relative

Some people wonder why the moon looks so small when it is higher in than sky as compared to when it is on the horizon. How does this happen is the moon physically changing size or moving farther from the earth? Or is it rather our perception of the moon’s size that is changing and why exactly do those changes occur. I can assure the moon does not change its size and the moon does not get closer and/or farther to the earth in just one night so the only answer to the change in its apparent size is our perception.

When you look at the moon in the middle of the sky there is nothing around it you are just seeing it as it is compared to nothing. On the other hand when you see the moon on the horizon you can see how big it is compared to a house, a tree, or even a skyscraper. Your perception takes these other relative objects into account the moon appears even larger in your mind when you see it behind other objects. With our knowledge of depth we think that the larger moon (on the horizon) has to be closer than the smaller moon amidst the stars.  (Goldstein, 2011) The following illustration is an example of an Ebbinghaus Illusion which is similar to the explanation above providing two identical circles that appear to have different sizes due to their different environments.  pysch


(supermoon, 2011)

This all appears to be bottom-up processing and I cannot find any top-down processing that could explain this misconception of perception.

Although the moon is the same size and distance in both positions in the sky when it appears different sizes we now know this is due to two things. First, is the Ebbinghaus illusion that different environments can cause the same object to appear different sizes. Adding to this is our understanding of depth and the relation of the size of other objects in front of the moon on the horizon making it appear huge.


Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology (3rd edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

The Supermoon Illusion. (2011, March 16). Retrieved September 13, 2015.

Visual Perception: Is Top down processing affected by Mood and emotions?

Visual Perception: Top down processing affected by Mood and emotions?

Is Visual Perception purely a top down process or do other factors alter our visual perception? Top down processing depends on a person’s prior knowledge or expectations. Bottom down processing begins with stimulation of the receptors. As someone living with mild depression, I know that emotions and mood can alter our perception. I believe our mood can alter how we see the world and what we get out of it. An experiment done in 2011 by Jacob Jolif and Maaike Meurs, University of Groningen, tested if how we feel changes how we perceive the world.

In top down processing perception is determined by three sources. These three sources are: stimulation of receptors (bottom-up processing), context in which the object appears, and knowledge or expectations of the perceiver. The idea that perception depends on knowledge was proposed in a theory back in the 19th century by physicist and physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz. Helmholtz’s Theory of Unconscious inference states that some of our perceptions are the result of unconscious assumptions that we make about the environment. What affect does mood and emotions further have on our perception?

The experiment conducted by Jolij and Meurs tested 43 students and analyzed the results. The task of each participant was to identify weather a happy face, sad face, or no face was seen after each trial. The trial was tested in 3 different scenarios to measure how mood affected the results. Each participant has 15 minutes of songs that made them feel happy and minutes that made them feel sad. Each scenario lasted 10 minutes at most and the music played through out. The participants all took the Self-Assessment Manakin in the beginning before either scenario was tested.

The experiment not only tested if mood affected visual stimulus but it also demonstrated how closely music and mood are interrelated. We all have experienced a song bringing a smile to our faces or possibly bringing on tears that we were not expecting. Participants of this experiment reported a significantly more positive mood with positive music, as compared to with no music and a more negative mood after listening to negative music.

The results of the experiment regarding visual perception show an elevation in detecting the correct face when music was present versus no music. During Happy music the participants were more accurate when it was a happy face and during sad music were more accurate when it was a sad face. The experiment proves the theory it was testing, that perception can be altered by your mood or emotions. It altered certain participant’s perception in such a way that they reported seeing happy or sad faces when no faces were present. The one aspect the experiment failed to acknowledge is the likelihood principle. The likelihood principle state that we perceive the object that is most likely to have caused the pattern of stimuli we have received. It’s likely that the participants saw faces correlating to the music they were listing due to the likelihood principle.

What part of the perception equation does mood and emotions affect? Could it be feedback signals are affected by emotions or mood? Feedback signals are associated with a person’s knowledge and expectations and are transmitted from higher levels of the brain then the receptors. It is certain that perception is more than top or bottom down processing.


Goldstein, E.B., (2001).Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, research, and Everyday Experience, Canada, Linda Schreiber-Ganster

Jolij, J. & Meurs, M. (2011). Music Alters Visual Perception. Retrieved from

The Imitation Game

I am a mother to two beautiful boys: a 2.5 year old and a five month old. Before I became a mother, strangers would always say: “Cherish every minute. It really goes by too fast!” I never thought much of this until I actually had my children; now, I really wish I could put a pause on time. Watching them grow has been the single most rewarding thing in my life. It’s especially been satisfying to see the progression in their development: from speech, physical changes and personality. One thing that my husband and I have found particularly amusing is how much my toddler imitates us, whether it be right after we do or say something, or even a couple days later.

This act of imitation is funded by mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are derived in the premotor cortex of the brain and were originally discovered through a study by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his coworkers on a monkey in the early 1990s. The results from their study concluded that these neurons responded both when carrying out an action, as well as when they observed the action themselves (Goldstein 2011: 75). In humans, mirror neurons are important for understanding the actions and intentions of other people and for learning new skills by imitation.

Even before children are a year old, they are able to imitate their caregivers. For example, my five month old recently started making eye contact, cooing and smiling when looking at me. When I smile, he smiles back. This is a simple example of the mirror neurons in action. Dr. Andrew Meltzoff’s study showing that infants a few minutes old will stick their tongue out at adults doing the same thing is another example (Blakeslee 2006). Meltzoff also claims that “humans are hard-wired for imitation”, which is why mirror neurons are so heavily involved in observing what others do. This explains why even at such an early age, infants show signs of imitation, like the examples I provided.

Mirror neurons in humans are fundamental in multiple aspects, significantly impacting language and learning. Proper functioning of these neurons is essential for healthy development in infants. Learning more about these neurons have allowed me to understand, from a cognitive aspect, why my children imitate so much and how important it is that they do so.


Goldstein, E.B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA.

Cells That Read Minds (NY TImes Article):

Top-down Processing and Dyslexia

While going through bottom-up and top-down processing in this week’s lesson, I found myself relating these different perception approaches to my Dyslexia. These topics gave me an idea of why I may read or perceive words differently than someone without dyslexia. While considering these different approaches, I have realized that my perception of words and sentences deals with top-down processing much more than bottom-up processing. For this blog post, I will provide examples of how I often misread or misperceive words due to top-down processing, and I will explain why bottom-up processing or a combination of the two may be more efficient for reading.

Bottom-up processing deals with sensing raw data from the environment through site, smell, sound, taste, or touch and forming a perception of that data based on the senses. Top-down processing may cause one to perceive that same raw data differently due to making assumptions based on what is expected or considering past experiences while processing the data. Top-down processing is probably not the sole reason for my Dyslexia, but it does help me better understand certain symptoms of my disorder. For example, my family and I recently went on vacation and spent a lot of time driving. While on the road, I noticed that I would often misread signs. If a sign read, “Seasonal Lodging,” my family would see the words and perceive them correctly. I may see the same sign but perceive it as reading, “Logical Reasoning,” due to the somewhat similar ordering of letters and because I am exposed to the term, “logical reasoning” more often than “seasonal lodging,” so that is what I would expect. This is an example of making assumptions based on expectations before the data is fully processed.

Another common mistake that I make deals with seeing numbers among words. If a sign were to read, “80 South,” I may perceive the sign as reading “86 South.” This is because I would not simply make a visual perception based on what I sense through site, as one would with bottom-up processing. Instead, I see the number “80,” so I assume that I am now dealing with numbers. I then see the letter “S” and read it as “6” because of the “S” sound. Instead of making only a visual perception based on my sense of site, I would have combined an auditory perception due to my expectations.

Bottom-up processing may be the more efficient method while reading because it involves visually sensing the letters, decoding the letters to form words, and allowing the words to form complete sentences. This method prevents assumptions and allows for comprehension. Top-down processing may lead one to misread a sentence due to what he or she expects it to say. However, combining the two types of processing may be helpful as well. While top-down processing may cause one to make assumptions, it can also be helpful with understanding the true meaning of a strangely-worded sentence or a sentence with errors. For example, English professors often use the sentence, “Let’s eat, Grandma,” to point out the importance of proper punctuation. Without the comma, the sentence has an entirely different meaning, but top-down processing allows one to use previously acquired knowledge and expectations to realize the intended meaning (Gjessing & Karlsen, 1989, p. 71).

Reading has always been a relatively difficult task for me due to Dyslexia, but this week’s lesson provided me with an understanding of how my perception process may be involved. I have become aware that my reading and comprehension habits deal primarily with the top-down process, which may explain why I add and remove words from sentences and often misread words. With this knowledge, I can attempt to apply the bottom-up process while reading, which may help with the disorder.



Gjessing, H. J., & Karlsen, B. (1989). A longitudinal study of dyslexia: Bergen’s multivariate study of children’s learning disabilities. New York, NY: Spring Science & Business Media.

Laws of Organization

 Laws of Organization

A group called the Gestalt psychologists consisted of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka. Together they proposed a number of laws of perceptual organization. The five laws of perceptual organization are as follows: the Law of Similarity, the Law of Pragnanz, the Law of Proximity, the Law of Continuity, and the Law of Closure (Cherry, Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization).

The Law of Similarity suggests that “similar things appear to be grouped together” (Goldstein, 2011, p.60). This grouping can occur with either visual or auditory stimulation. An example of the Law of Similarity is a pattern of dots. Some perceive the pattern of dots as horizontal rows, vertical rows, or even as both horizontal and vertical rows as seen in figure 1 below.

dots                paw Figure 1 (Unknown, Gestaltpsychology)   Figure 2 (Unknown, Gestaltpsychology)

The Law of Pragnanz or the Law of Simplicity suggests that “reality is reduced to the simplest form possible” (Cherry, Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization). An example of this law at work is the Olympic symbol. The Olympic symbol consists of a series of five circles and is perceived as a simple figure not a series of complicated shapes.

The Law of Proximity also known as the Law of Familiarity suggests that objects near each other appear to be grouped together. An example of this law can be seen above in figure 2. The dots are perceived to resemble a paw print because of the close proximity of the maroon dots.

The Law of Continuity suggests that lines are perceived to follow the smoothest path whether the result is curving, overlapping, or straight lines. A good example of the Law of Continuity is rope that is overlapping other parts of itself. Figure 2 below shows a rope overlapping itself.

rope       image

Figure 3 (Image from a Bing search)          Figure 4 (Image from a Bing search)

The final law is the Law of Closure. This law suggests that “objects grouped together are seen as a whole” (Cherry, Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization). Figure 4 above is an example of the Law of Closure. Our minds fill in the missing gaps to complete the shapes or images.

All of the Gestalt Laws try to explain how we perceive objects in our environment. ‘The whole is different from the sum of its parts’ is a Gestalt belief and is what led to the development of the principles explaining perceptual organization. These principles or phenomenon are considered to be mental shortcuts for solving problems or called heuristics.



Bing. Retrieved from

Bing. Retrieved from

Cherry, K. What are the Gestalt laws of perceptual organization? Retrieved from

GestaltPsychology. Retrieved from

Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology (3rd edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Perception in Our World

Perception in the brain is a fascinating topic. It is interesting how our brain makes up images for us to shorten processing time. Our brain seems to grab what is familiar to us as perceptual experiences in a way to create the image.


Gestalt’s grouping Laws include proximity, similarity, good continuation, connectedness, common fate, and pragnanz.


One example of this would be the top-down image from our Lesson 3 reading. The checkerboard showing two tiles, one being tile A, the other tile B. Both appear to be different colors. However when we see the two tiles away from the checkerboard we then realize that they are the same. When the board is rebuilt around said image, we see the tiles change back to fulfill the checkered pattern.


Another example was shown to us in the video of Charlie Chaplin’s face. The video showed a mask of the actor’s face rotating.   When the mask rotated to show the hollow side the face in the video, he explained that our brains would perceive it as convex. During the first rotation, I saw the mask as concave and hollow on the inside, but once he mentioned what he was observing I then observed it as convex and then could not see it hollow again. I also find this interesting when people point certain things out in a image we can not see them as we originally did due to perception.


The final example I would like to bring up here was a picture that started circulating around social media. This picture showed black and blue dress, though most people saw a white and gold dress. This conflict of perception caused it to become viral. People began sharing to other people to see what they perceived as the color of the dress. People are affected by the different visual cues such as, shadowing and the brightness of the background.


In conclusion, I feel that Gestalt created a good foundation for the reasons why we see things the way we do. It is an excellent reference point to explain why we perceive the world around us.



Lesson 3 Course content

Localization of Function in the Autism Brain

When reading the section for localization of function, I immediately related the material back to my own life. In fact, in many of the sections presented thus far (and in the coming weeks I am sure) I can relate almost everything back to my own life. I have three children, all boys, ages 6, 5 and 3 and all are diagnosed with varying degrees of autism spectrum disorder. While I am sure I will write about all of them quite often, today I am going to focus on my 5 year old, whom I will call AP. AP is profoundly autistic, non-verbal and is low-functioning as of this point in his life. Localization of function was especially interesting to read about, and easy to relate to my little AP from a specific conversation I had with his neurologist.

Localization of function states that specific functions that are carried out by the human body originate in specific areas of the brain (Goldstein, 2011). The lesson gives a good overview of what areas of the brain carry out what functions; like the cerebellum being involved with motor movements and motor learning. It also states that the occipital lobe is for vision, the temporal lobes and for auditory processing, the parietal lobes process sensory information and the frontal lobes have something to do with fine motor control (Lesson 2). Localization of function explains that there are different parts of our brain that process different stimulus, and carry out our reactions to such stimulus. Enter autism.

Autism is a “neurobehavioral disorder that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors.” ( This disorder is often referred to autism spectrum disorder, as it covers many different levels of impairment. Children with autism often have difficulty communicating, understanding others and expressing their thoughts and feelings. Some children may experience a pain or annoyance because the sensory information they are receiving is too much for their brains to process. When reading about localization of function, I realized that almost every part of the brain is affected by autism. There are so many things AP can do, but so many things he can’t because of an impairment, and it leaves me in shock to begin to understand the depth of this disorder.

AP’s neurologist is a lovely lady, and very straight-forward with me. When he was diagnosed 3 years ago, I knew what it was and I just needed it confirmed. When asking about how his life will be impacted, she made a simple comment that I had dismissed up until now. She said that his brain was like a giant map, interconnected with highways. Some of those bridges and cities were damaged for an unknown reason and we had to repair them the best way we knew how. At the time I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about; I had just assumed with some therapy and discipline that he would be neuro-typical in no time. What I now know about localization of function, that the different areas such as the temporal lobes and parietal lobes were the cities and that there are many parts of his brain that need their “highways” and “cities” repaired in order to reach that goal of neuro-typical.

When comparing localization of function to a city map of the brain, and comparing the known functions of those areas to the specific issues my son has, it is easy to relate the material learned back to my own life. There are specific parts of the brain that control different cognitive functions. It makes the lesson that much easier to understand and comprehend.

Works Cited

Autism Causes, Types of Autism, Definition, and Symptoms. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2015. From:

Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive Neuroscience. In Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

The Pennsylvania State University. (2015). Lesson 2: Cognitive Neuroscience. PSYCH 256: Introduction to Cognitive Psychology. Retrieved September 13, 2015. from: