Structuralism as a catalyst : LUSENET : History & Theory of Psychology : One Thread

The book I'm reading now (history and systems of psychology, Brennan) says that when Wundt established psychology as a discipline it was kind of a false beginning in that his suggested system (structuralism) never caught on. But it was more influential as a catalyst of controversy. Where act psychology, Gestalt Psychology and Wurzburg School all came about mainly to prove Structuralism wrong. If it weren't for Wundt's Structuralism, would there have ever been act psychology, Wurzburg school, or gestalt psychology. And was functionalism derived as the American take on Structuralism (during it's brief american introduction by Titchener.

-- (, April 12, 2003


I haven't read Brennan's book, so I can only comment on the characterization you provide.

First, I think it is misleading to call Wundt a "structuralist." That term was invented by Titchener to describe his own system. Titchener's approach was, no doubt, inspired by the work he had seen and participated in at Wundt's lab, but it was by no means identicial with Wundt's. Wundt was a broader, less doctrinaire scholar than Titchener. Consider, for instance, Wundt's philosophical work (e.g., his text on Ethics) as well as his "Folk Psychology." See Danziger's and Blumenthal's articles from the late 1970s and 1980s about the re-evaluation of Wundt. There's also a book edited by Bob Rieber. See also the critique of these in a recent issue of History of Psychology.

Second, I don't know that any of the schools you mention, except perhaps Würzburg, owe their existences to a reaction against Wundt, much less against Titchener's structuralism. Brentano's act psychology arose almost simultaneously with Wundt's physiological psychology. If Wundt had never existed, I expect that Brentano's thought would have developed in much the same way. Gestalt is a somewhat more difficult call. They reacted against the preceived atomism not only of Wundt but also of people such as Helmholtz. Indeed, since their greatest early successes were in the field of perception, one might argue that their *main* object was Helmholtz rather than Wundt. Even with functionalism, it is not clear that it arose through a reaction against Wundt. Although the story is often told that structuralism arose in (or was imported to) the US first and that functionalism grew as a response to it, the "reaction" was in fact by *Titchener* against the kind of work being done (in the name of no particular school) by people such as Baldwin, Angell, and Dewey. This work invovled comparative, developmental, and applied psychology that Titchener thought to be beyond the bounds of of what he saw as being "proper" experimental psychology. But there were no "schools" of structuralism and functionalism, per se, until Titchener objected to these people calling their work "psychology," declared *them* to be "functionalists" and declared his own system, by contrast, to be "structuralist." Angell (and to a lesser extent, Dewey) took up the name given them by Titchener and the beginning of American "schools" of psychology began.

-- Christopher Green (, April 12, 2003.

First of all, I would like to thank everyone for the excellent and informative answers I have been recieving, and I also have a new question for this thread! What systems of psychology used today share the same ideas as Wundt's?

-- (, April 13, 2003.

One obvious carry-over is the use of reaction times as a way to measure cognitive events. Wundt didn't originate this method -- it came from the old "personal equation" literature and was used by Donders as early as 1868, but it was certainly central to Wundt's research program.

-- Christopher Green (, April 13, 2003.

Wasn't Wundt more concerned with introspection as a research idea? Would reflexology be more commonly used in research methods in the Soviet Union (i.e. Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov, Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov) and their contributions to the observable (behavioristic) psychology beginnings?

-- (, April 13, 2003.

Introspection was a part of Wundt's research program, but hardly the whole thing. Reaction time experiments were among Wundt's first, and remained a central part of his physiological psychology program. Your question was, roughly, " which ideas from Wundt's program are still alive in today's psychology?" My answer was, "reaction times, for one." As for introsepction, it is, of course, largely gone from modern psychology (though consider Newell & Simon's "talking out loud" methodology for investigating decision-making processes).

I'm not sure how, or even *that*, reflexology fits in to this discussion at all. Certainly it was one inspiration for behaviorism, but the fact that behaviorism drew on other sources doesn't prevent Wundt's methods from continuing to have some influence as well.

-- Christopher Green (, April 13, 2003.

For Wundt's influence on contemporary psychology, read Arthur Blumentha's "A reappraisal of Wilhelm WUndt" which was published in the American Psychologist in 1975 and is included in Ludy Benjamin's A History of Psychology: Original Sources and Contemporary Research (McGraw-Hill, 1988, 1997)--Blumenthal has a fairly long list of "modern reconstructions"

-- Hendrika Vande Kemp (, April 14, 2003.

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