Insight Learning Theory by Wolfgang Kohler

Wolfgang Kohler

Wolfgang Kohler was a German psychologist who is renowned for his contribution to Gestalt psychology. He focuses on theoretical and philosophical aspects and is known for empirical studies of problem solving including a chimpanzee. His prominent contribution is the insight learning theory which he conducted and tested on chimpanzees. Kohler conducted two experiments for this theory.

Experiments by Kohler

Experiment 1

The first experiment was conducted on six chimpanzees whom he kept in a room that did not have smooth walls that were climbable. A stick and few boxes were placed in the room as a banana was suspended from the ceiling. The most intelligent chimpanzees moved the boxes forward, climbed on it, and used the stick to reach the banana.

Experiment 2

The second experiment shared a resemblance with the first one with few alterations. Intelligent chimpanzees were placed inside the cage and the banana was kept outside the cage. There were two sticks that could be joined with one another. After much trial and error, the chimpanzees suddenly realized and inserted the thinner stick into the thicker stick to get a longer stick. Using this stick, the chimpanzees got the banana.

These two experiments made Kohler realize that the chimpanzees came up with the solution with a sudden realization which was produced by insight and not by trial and error.

Principles of Kohler’s Insight Learning Theory

There are five principles and laws of Kohler’s insight learning theory which are as follows:

Law of Similarity

This law states that perceptions such as dots, lines, similar pairs, and the like determine group formations.

Law of Proximity

This law states that if items are spaced together, they form a group.

Law of Closure

This law states that when there is an incomplete perceptive situation, the individual won’t be able to solve the problem.

Law of Continuity

This law states that factors tend to act in manner when continuation, movement, and direction is shown.

Law of Contrast

This law states that the contrary opposite of something is suggested by an idea or a perception.


Kohler emphasised that insightful learning takes place suddenly in an ‘aha’ moment. It also depends upon factors such as intelligence, experience, learning environment, initial efforts, and repetition and generalisation.