The Gestalt principle of connectedness states that individual elements that are connected to each other via a line or shared border are perceived as being in the same grouping.
The connectedness principle can be used to help demonstrate links between ideas and clusters of concepts. It’s effective in helping to ensure themes are visible in graphs and on graphic designs.
Simple lines connecting two nodes are sufficient for demonstrating the connectedness principle and helping the mind identify clusters.
Connectedness Gestalt Principle Explained
There are different types of connectedness. For instance, it is often defined as involving individual visual elements that are literally connected by a line. Those elements are perceived as belonging together.
Other versions of connectedness refer to when distinct elements are grouped together because of a surrounding frame.
This is called element connectedness:
“Element connectedness is the tendency for distinct elements that share a common border to be grouped together” (Wagemans et al., 2012, p. 1181).
- Take a quick glance at this image. You automatically interpret the dots that are connected with a line as belonging together.
- Although the individual squares in this image are randomly distributed and have the same shape, the line that passes through some makes the mind interpret them as belonging together.
- This image demonstrates the power of the connectedness principle. Even though the dots on each side are in closer proximity to one another, the lines that connect the two inner columns override the principle of proximity.
- The elements on the left side of this image appear quite unrelated. However, the same set of dots on the right side all of a sudden have meaning because of the connecting lines.
- This historical timeline of India uses the principle of connectedness to show relationships both between and within key dates.
- The employment recruitment process is explained graphically and utilizes connectedness to make the sequence of steps clear and easy to follow.
- The principle of connectedness is often used to convey the relationships among social networks. Here is a graphic which depicts the digital links among individuals that share interests, memberships, or friendships.
- The relation between electronic circuits is certainly more easily understood when incorporating the Gestalt principle of connectedness.
- Project timelines can be understood at a glance thanks to the principle of connectedness. The same information presented in text would be much more difficult to digest.
- This web navigation bar helps the user easily identify wear they are at on a website and how to move to other pages simply by connecting the elements with a line at the bottom.
Case Studies of Connectedness Principles
1. Making Better Graphs
Graphs that depict complex data can be difficult to interpret. This is especially true with large data sets that attempt to display multidimensional factors.
Take the example below adapted from Excel Charts that shows three possible ways to display data:
- The top version is by far the most difficult to decipher. All the data points are the same shape and color.
- The second version is much easier to understand because it utilizes the principle of similarity by using two different colors.
- The bottom version is the easiest to interpret. The use of two lines that connect the individual data points makes the two groups clearly distinguishable.
2. Element Connectedness Of 3D Objects
The principle of connectedness takes several different forms. One conceptualization is referred to as “element connectedness.” This version is based on the physical properties of individual elements in a 3D space.
For instance, Wagemans et al. (2012) state that:
“Pieces of matter that are physically connected to each other in 3-D space are the primary candidates for being parts of the same object, largely because they tend to behave as a single unit …. The bristles, metal band, and handle of a paint brush, for example, constitute a single object in large part because of their connectedness, as demonstrated by the fact that when you push one part, the other parts move rigidly along with it” (p. 1182).
1. Web Design
Students in IT often have to design a website as part of a course project. To make that site more user-friendly, incorporate the principle of connectedness.
For example, connecting the individual steps of making a purchase with a single line can help users understand the purchasing process.
This can be applied to the navigation bar as well so users can easily identify where they are at and how to move to another page.
2. Displaying Data
The core function of the gestalt law of connectedness is in displaying datapoints. To show that data is related, it should be visually connected in presentations.
This can be useful in slide decks, for example, where a presenter might use cluster graphs that have lines demonstrating connections between ideas and concepts that might otherwise appear disconnected.
Even in classroom teaching, this psychological knowledge is useful. A teacher might choose to ring-fence ideas in a brainstorming session to show that they are connected, for example. Similarly, in teaching math to children, the teacher might cluster and ‘connect’ items to show students that those items form a group.
Other Gestalt Theory Principles
The five Gestalt principles describe how the mind perceives visual stimuli. Each one identifies different visual properties that affect human perception.
The fundamental principles are:
- Proximity: Individual elements of a visual stimulus that are close together are perceived as being related.
- Continuity: Individual elements that are arranged in a manner in which they could be connected by a smooth and continuous line are followed by the eye and perceived as a whole.
- Similarity: Elements that are alike tend to be grouped together.
- Connectedness: Individual elements that are connected are perceived as more related than elements that are not connected.
- Closure: If an image contains missing parts, perceptual processes tend to fill in the gaps to complete the image and make it whole.
Connectedness is a Gestalt principle which states that individual elements connected by a line will be perceived as belonging together.
This principle is so strong that it can override other Gestalt principles of perception such as similarity and proximity.
Another version of this principle concerns individual elements that share a border. Being located within the same frame creates the perception that those elements are in the same category or share a common attribute.
Still another version of connectedness is specific to physical objects that exist in a 3D space. When the individual parts of an object move together, they are perceived as belonging together because they behave “as a single unit.”
Koffka, K. (1935). Principles of Gestalt psychology. London, England: Lund Humphries.
Köhler, W. (1938). Physical Gestalten. In W. D. Ellis (Ed.), A source book of Gestalt psychology (pp. 17–54). London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Original work published 1920)
Lu, M., Wang, S., Lanir, J., Fish, N., Yue, Y., Cohen-Or, D., & Huang, H. (2019). Winglets: Visualizing association with uncertainty in multi-class scatterplots. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 26(1), 770-779.
Wagemans, J., Elder, J. H., Kubovy, M., Palmer, S. E., Peterson, M. A., Singh, M., & von der Heydt, R. (2012). A century of Gestalt psychology in visual perception: I. Perceptual grouping and figure–ground organization. Psychological Bulletin, 138(6), 1172–1217. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029333
Wertheimer, M. (1938). Gestalt theory. In W. D. Ellis (Ed.), A source book of Gestalt psychology (1-11). New York, NY: Harcourt.