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Explanations > Perception > Gestalt Theory > Proximity

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Things which are close together go together.

When visually distinguishing different things, if a group of objects are close together, we guess that they are part of a larger whole.

The reverse is also true: if things are physically separated, we assume they are not related (at least the relationship is not as strong as a proximal connection).


In the image below, the closeness of the circles in A may well lead to them being seen as a single group. When the two columns are separated, as in B and C, then the six circles may be seen as two separate groups of three.



Interestingly, if the whole group of A, B and C are viewed together, then the larger gap between A and B-C means that B and C may be seen as a single group.


We sense the world as mass of different shades. To be able to name and respond to this, we need to identify and name the things within our field of vision. In doing this, we first look for outlines to distinguish separate shapes. Yet often a nameable object is made up of multiple other shapes. We hence need to group shapes to discover the larger object.

Grouping by proximity is a very simple rule that is based on the principle that a larger shape is still limited in size, making it more likely that sub-items will be relatively close together.

When the distance between objects is consistently similar, this patterning increases the likelihood that they will be perceived as a single group. Hence regularity of the images in the example above makes the compound shape easier to distinguisy.

Ideally an object has an outline, but this is not always true. In the image below you may be able to see a dalmatian dog, sniffing the ground in the dappled light below a tree. When there is no outline, we use both the closeness and separation of shapes contained within the item to help spot the larger shape.



This metaphor of 'closeness = association' appears in many other situations, for example it has been found that people who live near one another are more likely to become friends than with those further away.

The law of proximity in gestalt is also known as the law of contiguity.

So what?

If you want something to appear as a single item, put its parts closer together. For example in an advert, put positive images closer to your product.

See also

Association principle


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