Category Archives: Experimental Psychology

Edward B. Titchener

Edward B. Titchener
Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927)

Edward Bradford Titchener was a British psychologist who founded the Structuralism school of psychology. Titchener was a professor at Cornell University, and during his tenure, he oversaw the creation of the largest doctoral program in the United States. In addition, he was a charter member of the American Psychiatric Association and is responsible for the term ‘empathy.’

 

Wundt’s Influence

While at college, Edward Titchener became aware of the writings of Wilhelm Wundt. Translating some of Wundt’s work into English, he became intrigued with the ideas he read. Following his graduation, he moved to Leipzig to study directly under the man. Wundt’s focus on the scientific study of the mind inspired Titchener’s own concepts on how the brain works. This new model came to be known as Structuralism.

 

Structuralism

The basic idea behind Edward Titchener’s new school of psychology was that the mind was better understood when broken down into its component parts. This would be the same as trying to learn more about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by separating each instrument, then breaking it down further by analyzing each musical note. With this in mind, Titchener broke down the mind into three components, sensations, images, and affectations. Each of these, in turn, was broken down even further.

 

A majority of Edward Titchener’s research took place using introspection, but this was not a simple write-down-what-I’m-thinking type of exercise. He was a stickler for detail, and his experiments took place using a very strict set of protocols. Each test required two people, both of whom had to follow Titchener’s instructions to such a close degree, that even the slightest error would result in a botched test. To Titchener, this was the only valid way to study the mind.

 

Legacy

Sadly, very little of Edward Titchener’s work in psychology is in use today. Structuralism began its decline shortly after his death. Some credit this to the exacting nature of Titchener’s testing protocols. Others argue that criticism from the Behavioralists was partially responsible. Whatever the case, Titchener was a pivotal figure the burgeoning field of psychology.

Wilhelm Wundt

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt
Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (1832-1920)

The man with the awesome beard and glasses over there is none other than Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt, a German philosopher/physician from the 1800’s. A prominent figure in the history of psychology, Wundt is often referred to as the “Father of Experimental Psychology”. He set up the first psychology laboratory. In addition, he pretty much got the ball rolling when it came to psychology being an actual field of study.

Pre-Wundt

Though Wilhelm Wundt is considered a founder of the field of psychology, it is important to note that psychological study existed before he began his work, albeit in a different form. For centuries, philosophers had contended with questions of the mind. From Decartes’ ‘I think therefore I am,” to Locke’s theory of Tabula Rasa,” and beyond, philosophers had come up with many theories on the mind’s inner workings. Unfortunately, philosophy did not have all the answers. Furthermore, some philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, did not believe that scientific study of the mind was impossible.

Enter Gustav Fechner and Ernst Weber, a physics professor and a physician, respectively. Both worked at the University of Leipzig in Germany, where they studied, among other things, the properties of human senses. This was the first real foray of science into the realm of the mind.

Wilhelm Wundt Arrives

Wilhelm Wundt comes along, and, inspired by Weber and Fechner, begins his own work in the field of psychology. Now, it has been suggested that Wundt never wanted to form his own field of study, but rather to simply subject philosophy to the same rigorous scientific standards as other disciplines. Whether or not this is the case, Wundt’s interest in psychology led him to open the first formal laboratory dedicated to its study in 1879.

Psychology Wundt Style

Much of Wilhelm Wundt’s research focused on human perception, specifically sensations and reaction times. However, his work is much broader in scope than he is usually credited for. In addition to his own work, Wundt’s laboratory also opened up a place for his students to perform research as well. The lab became a great draw for the university, pulling in students from around the world and legitimizing the study of psychology. Also, he had an awesome beard!