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!