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Wundt and Introspection

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Wundt and Introspection

Who was the first psychologist? Do you know who distinguished psychology as a genuine scientific field? The answer is Wilhem Wundt.

Wilhelm Wundt and Introspection

Wilhelm Wundt was the first person ever to call himself a psychologist and is widely known for his introspection methods, the first psychological experimental technique to be considered scientific. Wundt's laboratory in the University of Leipzig, Germany, was the first of its kind and sparked the development of psychology into the rich, interesting and scientific discipline that we know today.

Wundt and introspection [+] portrait of Wilhelm Wundt {+] StudySmarter

A portrait of Wilhelm Wundt, Wikimedia Commons

He began his career as a medical doctor and neurophysiologist. He later became the first to open a psychological lab, distinguishing psychology as a genuine scientific field separate from biology and philosophy.

Where is Wilhelm Wundt from?

Wundt was born in Baden, Germany, in 1832. His father was a Lutheran (a Christian denomination) minister. He was born in a time of economic stability, where consistent and large amounts of money were invested into education, medicine and technological developments. This culture strived to advance knowledge and helped Wundt develop his new methods and psychological theory.

Wilhelm Wundt's early career

Between 1851 and 1852, Wundt studied at three universities, Berlin, Tübingen, and Heidelberg. In 1956, Wundt graduated with his doctorate in medicine and worked at the University of Heidelberg as an assistant to Hermann von Helmholtz, a physicist and physiologist.

While working in this role, he wrote his first book, Contributions to the Theory of Sense Perception. 6 years later, he began to pursue his growing interest in psychology. As an associate professor, he began teaching psychological topics. He published his lectures in his next book, an anthology titled Lectures on Human and Animal Psychology.

His third book became a crucial text in the history of psychology. It was the very first textbook to be written on experimental psychology.

The first psychological laboratory

While studying at the University of Leipzig, Wundt founded the first psychological laboratory. This event, which occurred in 1879, is regarded as the birth of the modern field of experimental psychology. The lab began by employing graduate students, who carried out research led by Wundt himself. It soon attracted the interest of many scholars, all intrigued by the new area of study Wundt had established.

The lab quickly grew, from one room with 15 assistants to a whole institute of psychology with its building, officially recognized by the university in 1883. At this time, Wundt was teaching 2-hour lectures daily, six days a week, on psychology, anthropology and philosophy. In this groundbreaking lab, he created the experimental technique of introspection.

Introspection

Introspection is where we observe our thoughts and feelings and examine them. This can be the informal, daily practice that we see in modern self-help culture (for example, mindful meditation) or a more controlled method of psychological experiment. We sometimes call this reflection. Plato first suggested the idea when he asked why we shouldn't review our thoughts and examine them to see what comes forth.

In his lab, Wundt aimed to make his process of introspection as systematic, replicable, structured and controlled as possible to present psychology as legitimate science. He instructed that all introspection carried out in his lab should follow set instructions.

In simpler terms, this means that Wundt wanted his observers to know what they planned to observe before they began introspection. The person carrying out introspection should follow the course of their thoughts without losing their focus. He aimed for the observations that he made to be replicated many times, and if they changed due to certain stimuli or environmental changes, for his observers to investigate the effects these changes created.

This very controlled method aided in introspection being considered the first experimental method in psychology. However, this would not be regarded as scientific by modern standards.

Wundt and introspection [+] man reflecting [+] StudySmarter

A man reflecting on his thoughts, Canva

Wundt and introspection evaluation

Let's look at some of the limitations of introspection.

Introspection is subjective

One main criticism of introspection is that it is a subjective method of experimentation, whereas scientific methods usually aim to be objective. Introspection is subjective as it can be influenced by cognitive biases (e.g., religious beliefs and upbringing).

Some people may experience a particular thought and brand it as negative, whereas others may have the same thought and call it realistic. Even if their experience is the same, their report could be different. In other words, different sets of participants experiencing the same thoughts or feelings could report hugely different data, making it hard to replicate and therefore less valid.

Introspection can only be used with certain participants

Another limitation of this approach is that introspection can only be used for certain participants. For example, children or people with severe learning disabilities may not be able to use this technique, and it would be impossible to use this method to study the minds of animals. We can describe this as having low external validity.

A low external validity means the method is not universally applicable.

Introspection may change the course of our thoughts.

The act of observing our thoughts usually results in us having opinions about them, which leads to a new thought separate from the train of thought we could have had naturally after that first thought. Due to this, introspection may interfere with our natural thought process and be unable to examine it at all, making it unable to study what it sets out to; this is an example of low internal validity.

Applications of Introspection

Practising introspection as an individual rather than in an experimental setting may benefit our mental health. For example, in some therapeutic settings (such as psychodynamic therapies), therapists help clients to find the root of their anxieties or stresses, and the process of introspection could help with that.

Observing our thoughts may help us understand them, and when we find patterns in our thinking, we can see what may trigger them, which can help us avoid or interrupt unhelpful thinking patterns in the future.

Wundt and introspection - key takeaways

  • Wilhelm Wundt was the first psychologist.
  • Wundt opened the first psychological laboratory in 1879 Germany.
  • Wundt founded the first experimental method in psychology, called introspection.
  • Introspection in Wundt's lab was considered scientific as it was carried out under standardized instructions in a controlled environment.
  • By modern standards, introspection is not considered scientific but can have positive effects when applied in a therapeutic setting.

Frequently Asked Questions about Wundt and Introspection

Wilhelm Wundt used introspection to study the thoughts and feelings that could be prompted by certain stimuli, in a controlled environment.

Wundt believed that introspection was a way to scientifically study our conscious thoughts and feelings. Using controlled conditions and standardized instructions, he carried out introspection in a relatively scientific way for the time.

Wundt established the first psychological laboratory, and was the first to study the mind scientifically, helping to separate psychology from philosophy, helping it to stand alone as a science.

Wilhelm Wundt, a German psychologist who is considered the father of psychology.

Final Wundt and Introspection Quiz

Question

Who was Wilhelm Wundt?

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Answer

The first person to be considered a psychologist, who established psychology as a separate, scientific discipline for the first time.


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What is introspection?


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Answer

Observing and examining your own thoughts and feelings.

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What is one practise associated with mental health that uses introspection?


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Mindfulness

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What type of therapy can benefit from the use of introspection?


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Psychodynamic

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Why was introspection considered scientific at the time?


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it uses standardized instructions and controlled conditions


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Why is introspection subject to a lot of bias?


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It is a very subjective method, and relies on the introspectionist’s own perceptions of their thoughts

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Why is introspection considered to have low internal validity?


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Introspection itself may influence our natural thought processes, meaning that the method may not measure what it sets out to, which would be considered low internal validity

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 Why is introspection considered to have low external validity?


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 The approach can only be applied to certain groups of people, meaning that results found from introspection cannot be generalized.

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How can introspection be applied?


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In psychotherapy or mindfulness practice.

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When was the first psychological laboratory founded?


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 1879


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Where was the first psychological laboratory founded?


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Germany

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 Which philosopher first proposed the idea of introspection?


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Plato

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When was Wilhelm Wundt born?


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1832

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What university did Wundt found psychology at?


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University of Leipzig


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What did Wundt study before psychology?


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Answer

Medicine


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