Wertheimer, Max

(1880-1943)
   psychologist; principal founder of Ge-stalt psychology. He was born in Prague. His father had been a successful Jewish banker who resigned to teach business; his mother was an accomplished pianist.
   Given broad artistic interests and a circle of literary friends (including Max Brod and Franz Werfel), he struggled to select a career. After beginning legal studies in 1900, he took a doctorate in 1904 in criminal psychology at Würzburg. Of affluent means, he became an independent researcher and focused for a time on alexia at Vienna's Neuropsychiatric Clinic. He arrived in Frankfurt in 1910; his 1911-1912 experiments in perception at the Psychological Institute (with Wolf-gang Köhler* and Kurt Koffka) gave rise to Gestalt theory, based on the premise that learning and perception form a single mental process.
   Wertheimer, a captain in the German army, worked during the war on a direction finder for locating sounds. While the instrument illustrated Gestalt principles of auditory perception, it was used to aim shells. He was a Privat-dozent at Berlin* during 1916-1929, where his brilliant lectures attracted stu-dents and faculty. He founded the journal Psychologische Forschung in 1921 and served as editor until 1935. In 1929 he became full professor at Frankfurt; he conducted research in experimental psychology and taught a philosophical seminar with Kurt Riezler, Paul Tillich,* and the neurologist Adhemar Gelb.
   Wertheimer left Germany for Marienbad, Czechoslovakia, in March 1933. Receiving an invitation to join the New School for Social Research in New York, he took his family to the United States in September 1933. Although he was distressed when people linked Gestaltpsychologie with National Socialism, his classes inspired considerable interest in social psychology. He took American citizenship in 1939 and helped organize the Voice of America. His research on learning disorders appeared posthumously as Productive Thinking.
   REFERENCES:Ash, "Gestalt Psychology"; Henle, "Rediscovering Gestalt Psychology"; Newman, "Max Wertheimer"; Watson, "Wertheimer."

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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