Episode #1 of the course “Major Schools of Thought in Psychology”
Structuralism was developed by Wilhelm Wundt in the 1800s. It was essentially the first school of thought after psychology developed as a science, breaking away from traditional biology and philosophy. Edward B. Titchener is also strongly associated with this school of thought. In fact, some attribute Titchener with actually establishing the school because he formally named it and deviated from Wundt’s original ideas.
Structuralists wanted to examine the adult mind in its smallest possible understandable pieces. Then they would determine how those pieces fit together to create thoughts and ideas. It utilized the process of introspection, which involved trained observers’ careful descriptions in controlled conditions. Informal introspection is where an individual personally reflects on their own thoughts and feelings, but structuralists favored a more formal approach. Self-evaluation was still important, but the people involved were trained in how to describe their experiences using a very specific set of vocabulary. Wundt’s and Titchener’s versions were slightly different—Wundt looked at the whole experience while Titchener was focused on breaking down the process into smaller pieces.
Titchener argued that an experience should be considered a “fact,” which exists without considering the significance or value of the experience. He also argued that the only means of describing the conscious experience is based on these experiences – sensation and feeling (affection). The thought process was a result of those sensations, developed by experiencing a similar occurrence previously.
Structuralism was influential because, of course, it was the first school of thought developed in psychology. It set the groundwork for many schools to come. It also influenced the development of experimental psychology by using their introspection methods. As a science, however, critics argue that it is not very reliable because it is so subjective—especially its introspection methods.
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