Wilhelm Wundt

Wilhelm Max Wundt (August 16, 1832August 31, 1920), German physiologist and psychologist, is generally acknowledged as the founder of experimental psychology.

Wundt combined philosophical introspection with techniques and laboratory apparatuses brought over from his physiological studies with Helmholtz, as well as many of his own design. This experimental introspection was in contrast to what had been called psychology until then, a branch of philosophy where people introspected themselves. Wundt argued that "we learn little about our minds from casual, haphazard self-observation...It is essential that observations be made by trained observers under carefully specified conditions for the purpose of answering a well-defined question." (Principles of Physiological Psychology, translated by Edward Titchener, 1904)

The methods Wundt used are still used in modern psychophysical work, where reactions to systematic presentations of well-defined external stimuli are measured in some way--reaction time, reactions, comparison with graded colors or sounds, and so forth. His chief method of investigation was called "introspection" in the terminology of the time, though "observation" may be a better translation.

Wundt subscribed to a "psychophysical parallelism" (which entirely excludes the possibility of a mind-body/cause-effect relationship), which was supposed to stand above both materialism and idealism. His epistemology was an eclectic mixture of the ideas of Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel.


Wundt's life and works

After graduating in medicine from the University of Heidelberg in 1856, Wundt studied briefly with Johannes Mller before joining the University of Heidelberg, where he became an assistant to the physicist and physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz in 1858. There he wrote Contributions to the Theory of Sense Perception (1858-62).

It was during this period that Wundt offered the first course ever taught in scientific psychology, stressing the use of experimental methods drawn from the natural sciences. His lectures on psychology were published as Lectures on the Mind of Humans and Animals (1863). He was promoted to Assistant Professor of Physiology in 1864.

Bypassed in 1871 for the appointment to succeed Helmholtz, Wundt applied himself to writing a work that came to be one of the most important in the history of psychology, Principles of Physiological Psychology (1874). The Principles advanced a system of psychology that sought to investigate the immediate experiences of consciousness, including sensations, feelings, volitions, apperception, and ideas.

In 1875 he took up a position at the University of Leipzig, and almost immediately set up one of the first two psychological laboratories in the world (the other was created by William James, in America, that same year). Two years later he founded a journal of psychology, Philosophical Studies. He remained in Leipzig until his death, supervising 186 doctoral dissertations in various disciplines.

Wundt died in 1920, having completed his 10-volume masterwork, Vlkerpsychologie (social psychology).

Wundt's Impact

Several of Wundt's students became eminent psychologists in their own right.

Wundt's laboratory students called their approach Ganzheit Psychology ("holistic psychology") after Wundt's death.

Much of Wundt's work was derided mid-century in America because of a lack of adequate translations, misrepresentations by certain students, and behaviorism's bias against the structuralist program. Titchener, a two-year resident of Wundt's lab and one of Wundt's most vocal "proponents" in the United States, is responsible for several English translations and mistranslations of Wundt's works that supported his own views and approach, which he termed structuralism and claimed was wholly consistent with Wundt's position.

Titchener's focus on internal structures of mind was rejected by Skinnerian behaviorists, who dominated psychological studies in the mid century. Part of this rejection included Wundt, whose work fell into eclipse during this period. It is only in the late twentieth century that his true positions and techniques have seen reconsideration and reassessment by major American psychologists.


Works by Wundt

  • W. Wundt, Beitrge zur Theorie der Sinneswahrnehmung, Leipzig, 1862.
  • W. Wundt, Grundzge der physiologischen Psychologie, first edition, 2 volumes, 1873-4.
  • W. Wundt, Vorlesungen ber die Menschen und Thierseele, Leipzig, 1893.
  • W. Wundt, Grundriss der Psychologie, Leipzig, 1896.
  • W. Wundt, Grundzge der physiologischen Psychologie, fifth edition, 4 volumes, 1903.
  • W. Wundt, Vlkerpsychologie, 10 volumes, Leipzig, 1900-1920.

External links

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