structuralism and functionalism : LUSENET : History & Theory of Psychology : One Thread

How do functionalists and structuralists make sense of a person, respectively?

-- Phindezwa Mnyaka (, April 23, 2002


If you want to understand the difference between structuralism and functionalism, this isn't the right question to ask. Neither school of thought was concerned with understanding persons--at least in the sense that personality theorists or clinical psychologists would understand personhood. Both schools of thought are thoroughly covered in virtually all history of psychology textbooks and in encyclopedias of psychology--that's the best place to begin. And you might sharpen the question to how the schools approaching thinking, or mental processes, or ask what group of people (or nonhumans) they used for experiments.

-- Hendrika Vande Kemp (, April 23, 2002.

As Hendrika says, "the person" was not really the unit of analysis of either group (though "the group" of structuralists amounted pretty well to Titchener alone, plus a few of his students). Titchener thought that we must understand what the structures of the mind are before we know how they work and where they come from, just like (he thought) anatomy must precede physiology in biology. The functionalists thought that this to be an artificial dichomtomy -- that finding out what something is, what it does, and where it comes from are all part of the same project. One of the functionalists' main aims was to ground psychology in evolutionary biology. If we knew what environmental pressures brought about the development of certain mental functions, we would have a better idea of how they worked. You might look at J. M. Baldwin's "New factor in evolution" (1896) for an example relevant to the question of consciousness. They were also interested in individual differences because natural selection has nothing to work on unless there are heritable variations between indiviudals of a species. Although J.R. Angell and Dewey are usually given credit for being the first functionalists, it was Baldwin's 1895-96 debate with Titchener about individual differences in patterns of reaction times that got the ball rolling. A lot of the basic materials are available on-line at:

-- Christopher Green (, April 25, 2002.

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