Wilhelm Wundt

It's the mid-1800s, and you are living in Germany. Psychology isn't a field of study yet, but you want to help change that. As a professor, you decide to open up the very first psychology laboratory ever! You recruit other scientists and students to work with you to study the mind's inner structures. It is an exciting time for this new kind of science!

Wilhelm Wundt Wilhelm Wundt

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Table of contents

    • What are some interesting facts about Wilhelm Wundt?
    • How is Wundt connected to the school of structuralism?
    • What are some examples of Wundt’s contributions to structuralism?
    • What kind of experiments and work did Wundt complete?
    • Why are Wundt’s contributions important to psychology?

    Wilhelm Wundt: Interesting Facts

    Wilhelm Wundt was born in 1832 near Mannheim, Germany, and he lived to be 88 years old. He married a lady named Sophie in 1867 and had three kids. After finishing his education, Wundt became a professor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig. Psychology wasn't a field of study yet! It didn't become its field until Wundt, and a team of researchers opened a psychology laboratory in 1879. They packed this lab with scientific instruments available at the time and began conducting experiments.

    Wilhelm Wundt, a black and white photograph of Wilhelm Wundt, StudySmarterWilhelm Wundt, wikimedia.commons.org

    Before opening this laboratory, though, Wundt started teaching courses on psychology in 1875. Since Wundt was also a doctoral mentor for many students, he helped influence nearly all the big names in psychology in the following years. Wundt also wrote a lot! He wrote so much that historians have difficulty counting all his publications and writings.

    Different historians have come up with separate totals for Wundt's writings. One historian counts 589 written works. Another counted 494 works, with the pages totaling 53,735! This total works out to Wundt writing seven pieces per year and editing around two pages of writing every day.

    What are some other interesting facts about Wilhelm Wundt?

    Interesting Facts about Wilhelm Wundt
    Wundt was the first to call himself a "psychologist."
    Wundt set up the first academic journal of psychology called Philosophical Studies (1881-1902).
    Wundt was a physician and neurophysiologist.
    Wundt's daughter Eleonore wrote a biography of her father's life (1928).
    Wundt earned the title of the father of experimental psychology.
    Wundt was the first to put together all the information needed for psychology to be considered its scientific field.

    Wilhelm Wundt: Structuralism

    Wundt was one of the founders of the school of thought in psychology known as structuralism. One of Wundt's students, Edward Bradford Titchener, was another major founder.

    Structuralism is about studying the structure of the mind through introspection or internal reflection.

    Even though he was a professor of philosophy, Wundt's training was in medicine. When his interest turned toward psychology, he wanted to learn more about our inner human experiences connected to culture, sensations, thoughts, and feelings. He focused on sense experiences: how we react to what we touch, taste, see, hear, and smell.

    Remember know how there is a table of periodical elements in chemistry? Nothing like that existed for psychology since it was so new. Structuralists like Wundt wanted to organize and categorize the different structures of the mind. The primary technique that structuralists used in their research were introspection.

    Introspection is the act of reflecting on your thoughts and feelings and expressing them to others.

    You are a participant in a structuralist experiment. A researcher hands you a big, bright red rose. He instructs you to use your senses to explore the rose: touching, smelling, and looking at it. Then he asks you to describe what you are thinking and feeling inside about your sense experiences of the rose. As you talk, he is writing detailed notes about everything you are saying.

    Wilhelm Wundt, a black and white photograph of Wundt and students in the first psychology laboratory, StudySmarterWundt's Research Group, wikimedia.commons.org

    Wilhelm Wundt: Examples of Structuralism

    Many of Wundt's contributions to structuralism were the theories he developed about different psychological topics. He wrote about consciousness, perception, mental associations, and human will. Titchener took these ideas and used them to help build the school of structuralism.

    Wundt and Titchener did not agree on everything, though. Titchener used many of Wundt's ideas but also included some of his own. Remember, Wundt was a doctor and philosopher before he became a psychologist, but Titchener was a psychologist from the beginning. Wundt's ideas about the mind and introspection as a scientific tool started structuralism, and Titchener took over from there.

    Wilhelm Wundt: Experiments

    Wundt was more a writer, teacher, and theorist than an experimenter. This is interesting considering that he is called the father of experimental psychology! He developed a field of psychology called völkerpsychologie: Folk or Cultural Psychology. He viewed psychology as a fusion of philosophy and the natural sciences.

    Wilhelm Wundt, a photograph of the title page of Wundt's book in German titled Folk Psychology, StudySmarterWilhelm Wundt Publication, wikimedia.commons.org

    He recognized that you need different methods to study the many different topics within psychology. For some things, you can use the same methods used in the natural sciences, but they won't work for studying things like thoughts and feelings. So, in his psychology laboratory, Wundt organized experiments using scientific instruments and more subjective methods like introspection. He led the students, created the budget, and kept everything organized.

    One experiment conducted in Wundt's laboratory that we know about was an experiment on human reaction time. Wundt and his students set a button in front of a participant, and the instructors were to press the button when shown a white circle but not a black circle. The researchers measured and recorded the time the participant took to recognize the white circle and press the button (i.e., reaction time). Then they added more shapes to the experiment, and the participant's reaction time slowed.

    Wilhelm Wundt: Contribution to Psychology

    It is hard not to see how important Wundt was to psychology! Before him, psychology wasn't a field of study, and no scientific psychology laboratories existed. His writings started, and he also created the first academic journal for psychology so that others could write and contribute. This is similar to how other fields of science got their start.

    Wundt wrote textbooks on psychology and put together the first set of information on psychology as a field of study. As a teacher and writer, he influenced the first generation of psychologists, including Sigmund Freud. If you put Wundt’s work and writings together with all the work of the psychologists he influenced, there’s no end to the impact he had on psychology!

    "Why does not psychology follow the example of the natural sciences? ...[T]he progress of every science is closely connected with the progress made regarding experimental methods."

    - Wilhelm Wundt1

    Wilhelm Wundt - Key takeaways

    • Since Wundt was also a doctoral mentor for many students, he helped influenced nearly all the big names in psychology in the following years.
    • Structuralism is about studying the structure of the mind through introspection or internal reflection.
    • Introspection is the act of reflecting on your thoughts and feelings and expressing them to others.
    • Wundt wrote about consciousness, perception, mental associations, and human will.
    • Wundt earned the title of the father of experimental psychology, and he developed a field of psychology called völkerpsychologie: Folk or Cultural Psychology.

    References

    1. Wundt: Beiträge zur Theorie der Sinneswahrnehmung, 1862, p. XI
    Frequently Asked Questions about Wilhelm Wundt

    What is wilhelm wundt famous for? 

    Wilhelm Wundt is famous for opening the first psychology laboratory in 1879 at the University of Leipzig.

    What was wilhelm wundt s theory? 

    Wilhelm Wundt's theory is called völkerpsychologie: Folk or Cultural Psychology.

    What did wilhelm wundt contribution to psychology? 

    Wilhelm Wundt contributed many things to psychology, including the first psychology laboratory, the first comprehensive explanation of psychology, and the foundations for the school of structuralism.

    Why was the perspective followed by Wilhelm wundt and his followers called structuralism? 

    The perspective followed by Wilhelm Wundt and his followers was called structuralism because it investigated the internal structures or parts of the mind.

    How did wilhelm wundt s method of self observation and introspection work? 

    Wilhelm Wundt's method of self-observation and introspection worked by having participants describe their internal reactions to sensory experiences.

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