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1.2: Wundt And Structuralism

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    Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) was a German scientist who was the first person to be referred to as a psychologist. His famous book entitled Principles of Physiological Psychology was published in 1873. Wundt viewed psychology as a scien- tific study of conscious experience, and he believed that the goal of psychology was to identify components of conscious- ness and how those components combined to result in our conscious experience. Wundt used introspection (he called it “internal perception”), a process by which someone exam- ines their own conscious experience as objectively as possible, making the human mind like any other aspect of nature that a scientist observed. Wundt’s version of introspection used only very specific experimental conditions in which an external stimulus was designed to produce a scientifically observable (repeatable) experience of the mind (Danziger, 1980). The first stringent requirement was the use of “trained” or prac- ticed observers, who could immediately observe and report a reaction. The second requirement was the use of repeatable stimuli that always produced the same experience in the sub- ject and allowed the subject to expect and thus be fully atten- tive to the inner reaction. These experimental requirements were put in place to eliminate “interpretation” in the report- ing of internal experiences and to counter the argument that there is no way to know that an individual is observing their mind or consciousness accurately, since it cannot be seen by any other person. This attempt to understand the structure or characteristics of the mind was known as structuralism. Wundt established his psychology laboratory at the Univer- sity at Leipzig in 1879 (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). In this laboratory, Wundt and his students conducted experiments on, for example, reaction times. A subject, sometimes in a room isolated from the scientist, would receive a stimulus such as a light, image, or sound. The subject’s reaction to the stimulus would be to push a button, and an apparatus would record the time to reaction. Wundt could measure reaction time to one-thou- sandth of a second (Nicolas & Ferrand, 1999).

    However, despite his efforts to train individuals in the process of introspection, this process remained highly subjec- tive, and there was very little agreement between individuals. As a result, structuralism fell out of favor with the passing of Wundt’s student, Edward Titchener, in 1927 (Gordon, 1995).

    Behaviorism_1.gif
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): (a) Wilhelm Wundt is credited as one of the founders of psychology. He created the first laboratory for psychological research. (b) This photo (c. 1908) shows him seated, surrounded by fellow researchers and equipment in his laboratory in Germany. [(a) ”Wilhelm Wundt. Photogravure by Synnberg Photo-gravure Co., 1898”/Wellcome Images is licensed under CC BY 4.0; (b) “Leipzig’te içgözlem denemeleri”/Wikimedia Commons is in the public domain.]

    This page titled 1.2: Wundt And Structuralism is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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