Wilhelm Wundt Is Best Known For:
- The establishment of the first psychology lab
- His influence on the school of thought known as structuralism
Birth and Death:
- Wilhelm Wundt was born August 16, 1832
- He died August 31, 1920
Wilhelm Wundt’s Career:
Wilhelm Wundt graduated from the University of Heidelberg with a degree in medicine. He went on to study briefly with Johannes Muller and later with the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. Wundt’s work with these two individuals is thought to have heavily influenced his later work in experimental psychology.
Wundt later wrote the Principles of Physiological Psychology (1874), which helped establish experimental procedures in psychological research. After taking a position at the University of Liepzig, Wundt founded the first of only two experimental psychology labs in existence at that time. (Although a third lab already existed – William James established a lab at Harvard, which was focused on offering teaching demonstrations rather than experimentation.G. Stanley Hall founded the first American experimental psychology lab at John Hopkins University).
Wundt was associated with the theoretical perspective known as structuralism, which involves describing the structures that compose the mind. He believed that psychology was the science of conscious experience and that trained observers could accurately describe thoughts, feelings, and emotions through a process known as introspection.
However, Wundt made a clear distinction between introspection, which he believed was inaccurate, and internal perception. According to Wundt, internal perception involved a properly trained observer who was aware when a stimulus of interest was introduced. Wundt’s process required the observer to be keenly aware and attentive of their thoughts and reactions to the stimulus and involved multiple presentations of the stimulus. Of course, because this process relies on personal interpretation, it is highly subjective. Wundt believed that systematically varying the conditions of the experiment would enhance the generality of the observations.
While Wundt is typically associated with structuralism, it was actually his student Edward B. Titchener who influenced the structuralist school in America. Many historians believe that Titchener actually misrepresented much of Wundt’s original ideas. Instead, Wundt referred to his point of view as volunteerism. While Tichener’s structuralism involved breaking down elements to study the structure of the mind, Blumenthal (1979) has noted that Wundt’s approach was actually much more holistic.
Contributions to Psychology:
Wilhelm Wundt is best known for establishing the first psychology lab in Liepzig, Germany, generally considered the official beginning of psychology as a field of science separate from philosophy and physiology. In addition to this accomplishment, Wundt also established the psychology journal Philosophical Studies.
Wilhelm Wundt’s Influence:
The creation of a psychology lab established psychology as a separate field of study with its own methods and questions. Wilhelm Wundt’s support of experimental psychology also set the stage for behaviorism and many of his experimental methods are still used today.
Selected Publications by Wundt:
- W. Wundt, (1862) Beiträge zur Theorie der Sinneswahrnehmung.
- W. Wundt, (1893) Vorlesungen über die Menschen und Thierseele.
- W. Wundt, (1900-1920) Völkerpsychologie, 10 volumes.
Biographies of Wilhelm Wundt:
- Blumenthal, Arthur L. (2001) A Wundt Primer: The Operating Characteristics of Consciousness.
- Reiber, Robert W. and Robinson, David K. Wilhelm Wundt in History: The Making of a Scientific Psychology.