The Gestalt psychologists, especially Max Wertheimer, developed a number of “laws” that predict how perceptual grouping occurs under a variety of circumstances (Wertheimer, 1923/1938). Technically, in sciences, laws are predictions that are true. In reality, these laws are better classified as principles, which are true most of the time. However, the term law has stuck with these principles because they were established so long ago. So we will continue to refer to them as laws, even though technically they are not scientific laws.
The Law of Proximity is the gestalt grouping law that states elements that are close together tend to be perceived as a unified group. This straightforward law states that items close to each other tend to be grouped together, whereas items further apart are less likely to be grouped together.
The Law of Similarity is the gestalt grouping law that states that elements that are similar to each other tend to be perceived as a unified group. Similarity can refer to any number of features, including color, orientation, size, or indeed motion.
Use this activity to explore how both the Law of Proximity and the Law of Similarity operate. You can even put them in tension against each other.
To see the illustration in full screen, which is recommended, press the Full Screen button, which appears at the top of the page.
Below is a list of the ways that you can alter the illustration. The settings include the following:
Shape: change the objects so that all are circles and every other column being squares.
Vertical Sep: control the degree of vertical separation between rows.
Horizontal Sep: control the degree of horizontal separation between columns.
Color: have all objects be the same color or change the color of the even numbered rows.
Pressing this button restores the settings to their default values.