Continuity in Psychology (Definition + Examples)

When we consider continuity within the realm of psychology, we regard it concerning the principles of Gestalt. As with all psychological theories, that of continuity is accepted by some and rejected by others. Let us explore the meaning of continuity psychology and its implications for our consciousness and daily lives.

Continuity psychology, as proposed by Gestalt, refers to the theory that our brains detect what we experience or see as continuous even if it is, in reality, disjointed. This theory can be applied to our character and personality, implying that what we experience growing up defines our adult identity.

Continuity means that something continues indefinitely. It can also describe how our eyes follow a line until it is interrupted. When we apply the theory of continuity, it adds a different flavor to what we think about. For some, the idea implies that our identity is linked to the continuity of our memories. For others, the matter is a little more complicated. Hold onto your hat as we dive into the meaning of continuity psychology, Gestalt’s theories, and what all this means for our lives.

Continuity Psychology Meaning

Simply put, the principle of continuity is our brain’s desire and ability to create complete, continuous things from disjointed ones.

Considering how a movie or music is made, we can see these things are made of many small, disjointed parts. A movie is created using millions of still images shown in succession. Music is made of individual notes played by different instruments, one after the other.

Still, our brains discern an entire movie or piece of music as one complete product. Our brains have created continuity from parts of a whole.

Our brains attempt to understand an image as quickly as possible when we see it. This action sometimes leads us to see things we expect to be there instead of those that indeed are. For example, we may be shown a complex pattern and discern known shapes within it, like triangles or faces. In reality, it may simply be a pattern with no distinct images.

Our brains work this way to help us access information and gain understanding as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The principle of continuity is one of five theorized by a psychologist named Gestalt. All five principles show how our brains create shortcuts to help us understand the world around us.

The five Gestalt principles are:

  1. Proximity
  2. Similarity
  3. Continuity
  4. Connectedness
  5. Closure

Each of these five principles works similarly to that of continuity. Let us look briefly at all five to understand our primary focus, continuity, better.

1.      Proximity

In the principle of proximity, we see that if items are grouped, our brains determine that they belong together. In this case, all the things that appear in groups may be identical. Simply the proximity to each other determines their status of belonging.

If items are identical but further away than our brains determine it is eligible for belonging, the items will be deemed entirely separate.

2.      Similarity

The principle of similarity refers to how we group items. This process begins early on as we start to group toys according to soft, plastic, color, those that belong in the bath, etc. We may group items according to any criteria that make sense and tend to group according to similarities.

3.      Continuity

The third principle is continuity, and we have already touched on this. We will go into much more detail throughout this article; however, it refers to our brain’s capacity to create a continuous end-product from pieces provided.

4.      Connectedness

In this principle, we understand that we can make connections from fragments of a complete image. When our forefathers could create images from the constellations, they employed connectedness.

When we can make or witness a collage or mosaic, our brains are helping us to see the complete image made from smaller parts. In this case, we are using the principle of connectedness.

5.      Closure

We often see puzzles on social media asking us what is missing or wrong with a specific image. 

In most cases, the creators of the puzzle rely on our strong sense of closure to mess with our ability to solve their challenges.

The principle of closure is when our brains fill in the blanks to create an end-product we deem satisfactory. One example would be seeing the alphabet with one missing letter. We may struggle to see which letter is missing since our brains fill in the blank.

When editors work on written work, they often need to read out loud because of this phenomenon. 

If the editor reads silently, their brain automatically fills in the blanks and self-corrects the errors in the piece. When the editor reads aloud, they bypass the brain’s desire for closure and see the errors that are blatantly evident in the text.

Now that we have briefly learned about all five of Gestalt’s principles let us look into the continuity principle and its application in psychology.

Continuity Principle In Psychology

The principle of continuity is intriguing when we look at how our brains assist us in our daily lives. 

What may otherwise seem disjointed and unappealing is made entertaining and enjoyable to behold, thanks to our desire for continuity.

When considering its application in psychology, we are led to wonder how far we can take our brain’s desire for continuity and how much weight it holds for the understanding we possess of ourselves and our world.

Furthermore, theorists have claimed that continuity, in terms of our memories, is what makes up our character and identity. Let us look into all of these elements to gain a clear understanding of the theories at play.

Continuity Of Cognition Throughout Our Lives

Have you ever noticed that, as much as you may change over the years, you continue to be drawn to similar people, styles, activities, subjects, and more? This could be because your ideas of what you enjoy and value were set when you were young.

A theory claims that our experiences create who we are and remain with us throughout our lifetimes. One reason for this is our desire for continuity.

Since our brains desire continuous flow, the desire may be strong enough to carry into long-lasting effects such as preferences. Could it be that our taste in music, for example, has indeed changed, but our brains are keeping us in a loop of enjoying the same genre for the sake of continuity?

If we understand this principle, we should realize Locke’s theory. He proposed that our entire identity is tied up with psychological continuity and that our memory is, in fact, our consciousness.

Locke’s theory is similar to Gestalt’s since both propose that our current identity and understanding of the world are based on continuity and what we have experienced.

According to Maria Montessori, an education specialist, children are in the period of the absorbent mind until around six years old. During this time, they learn most of what they will need to carry them through life. It was Piaget who agreed that children should first be taught the basics and then be allowed to experiment with them.

Perhaps these education specialists understood the principle of continuity and how it affects us psychologically. Maybe it was their personal desire for continuity, or the observance of it in children, that led them to their educational theories that tie in with the principle.

Continuity In Psychological Treatment

The idea of continuity psychology is evident in counseling and therapy practices globally. Patients often begin counseling or therapy out of a desperate need for clarity or help in their current situation. What typically follows is a regression to the patient’s past.

The counselor or psychologist can piece together parts of their life by looking at the patient’s childhood activities, traumas, treatment, joys, troubles, and more. This keyhole glance at the inner workings of the patient allows the counselor or therapist to ascertain what parts of the patient have carried over into their current life.

In many cases, a counselor or psychologist can explain to the patient what they have carried into their current life and show them how their desire for continuity has led them to their present situation.

If the patient can grasp the theory well, they can select the good from the bad of their past and move forward intentionally.

Plato explained our consciousness as like being in a cave. In this cave, shadows move, and events occur, but our understanding is limited to what we have seen before and therefore understand.

Living in an unconscious state of continuity is similar. We think and act based on what we have experienced before but do not think consciously about our current choices and ways of thinking and existing.

Continuity is sometimes a life-saving safety net. It allows us to function and perform high-order tasks without reinventing our mindset with each new challenge. It can, however, also lead to an element of laziness and a degree of blindness if we do not participate in our consciousness.

Continuity As The Basis For Consciousness And Identity

Gestalt and Locke describe continuity as the basis for our identity. They theorize that our memories of past events make up our current character and personality.

The definition of continuity psychology is the ability to continue with something in the same way, indefinitely. If this is the case with our identity, it could lend weight to the theory of life after death or reincarnation. The word “indefinite” implies that even the end of a physical body could not stop a consciousness.  

Reid disagreed with Gestalt and Locke, stating that, since he cannot remember every detail of his life, his memory cannot possibly make up the entirety of his consciousness. He questioned whether forgetting something meant it had not happened at all.

Furthermore, he asked if he had forgotten something, but someone else remembered it about him, was that memory then a part of the other person’s consciousness and no longer his.

As we can see, the idea that memory and continuity are the basis for consciousness is rather complicated and not to be taken too literally.

While our memories add to our identity, they cannot be the sole creators of it. Our brains use our memories and help us piece together our identities based on what we understand throughout our lives.  

An example would be as follows:

A child grows up in a family with parents who were hippies in the 1970s. She hears the era’s music playing and conversations about rebellion and notices elements of her parents’ personalities that tie in with the hippie lifestyle of the time.

As she grows up, her tastes lean toward hippy, bohemian trends, and she enjoys similar music, fashion, art, and career choices. Her identity is wrapped up in her childhood experiences with her parents.

Over the years, she learns more about the era and her parents as people and realizes there is likely a lot more to who her parents were and what they did.  

She is now faced with a choice. The desire for continuity will help her filter out the “bad” elements she has learned and focus only on the good. In this case, she will continue as before, living in denial.

She may choose to dig deeper and discover more of the truths she has begun to uncover. Once she has learned a great deal, she can then decide whether or not her previous identity still fits or if she would like to develop a slightly different one.

It is vital to understand that, hard as we may work to change, our development away from any initial identity or sense of self is less of a significant shift and more like a gradual evolution.

While we may make conscious changes to our lifestyle and understanding of things, the forces of continuity, culture, identity, and memory are strong and deeply engrained. In the end, while we may not like all that we discover about our histories and from where we acquired our consciousness, we should try to appreciate every element of ourselves.

Conclusion

Continuity psychology rests on the understanding that our early experiences form our consciousness. Our brain’s overwhelming desire for continuity and sameness in an ongoing fashion leads us to continue on paths we began many years ago unconsciously.

Continuity is one of five principles theorized by Gestalt. All the principles he proposes are ways for our brains to make shortcuts to understanding our experiences and the world around us. If we are to live in a genuinely conscious state, we should frequently question our decisions and automatic thoughts.

Resources

https://study.com/academy/answer/the-principles-of-continuity-and-closure-best-illustrate-what.html

https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychologists/what-is-continuity-psychology/

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/allegory-of-the-cave-explained#quiz-0

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/continuity

https://www.usertesting.com/resources/topics/gestalt-principles#:~:text=The%20principle%20of%20continuity%20states,on%20the%20line%20or%20curve.

https://outsidetheboxmom.com/what-is-continuity-psychology/

https://www.thoughtco.com/montessori-method-4774801

Theodore T.

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.