Gestalt principle use in college students, children with autism, toddlers (Homo sapiens), and cotton top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus)

J Comp Psychol. 2014 May;128(2):188-98. doi: 10.1037/a0034840. Epub 2014 Feb 3.


The use of Gestalt principles of proximity, similarity, and closure to recognize objects by configural superiority was examined in college students, low- and high-functioning children with autism, toddlers, and adult cotton top tamarin monkeys. At issue was whether the monkeys showed differences from humans in perceptual processing and whether they showed any similarities with clinical or developmental groups. The method required a pointing response to discriminate an odd item in a 4-item visual display. All subjects were trained to a high accuracy to point to the odd item before being tested with graphic stimuli that differentiated feature changes based on configural superiority. The results were that college students and high-functioning children with autism responded faster and more accurately to trials in which the odd item was easily noticed by the use of Gestalt principles and configural superiority. Toddlers also responded more accurately to the Gestalt trials, but without being faster at making the response. Low-functioning children with autism and tamarins showed no advantage to Gestalt trials but exhibited different processing styles. The implications of these findings to track the evolution of human perception and to develop a primate model for the perceptual deficits of autism are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Perceptual Closure / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Saguinus / physiology*
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult