Born: August 16, 1832
Died: August 31, 1920
Best known for:
- The establishment of the first psychology lab
- His influence on the school of thought known as structuralism
Wilhelm Wundt’s Career:
Wilhelm Wundt graduated from the University of Heidelberg with a degree in medicine. He went on to study briefly with Johannes Muller and later with the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. Wundt’s work with these two individuals is thought to have heavily influenced his later work in experimental psychology. Wundt later wrote the Principles of Physiological Psychology (1874), which helped establish experimental procedures in psychological research. After taking a position at the University of Liepzig, Wundt founded the first of only two experimental psychology labs in existence at that time. (Although a third lab already existed – William James established a lab at Harvard, which was focused on offering teaching demonstrations rather than experimentation. G. Stanley Hall founded the first American experimental psychology lab at John Hopkins University).
Wundt was associated with the theoretical perspective known as structuralism, which involves describing the structures that compose the mind. He believed that psychology was the science of conscious experience and that trained observers could accurately describe thoughts, feelings, and emotions through a process known as introspection.
However, Wundt made a clear distinction between introspection, which he believed was inaccurate, and internal perception. According to Wundt, internal perception involved a properly trained observer who was aware when a stimulus of interest was introduced. Wundt’s process required the observer to be keenly aware and attentive of their thoughts and reactions to the stimulus and involved multiple presentations of the stimulus. Of course, because this process relies on personal interpretation, it is highly subjective. Wundt believed that systematically varying the conditions of the experiment would enhance the generality of the observations.
Contributions to Psychology:
Wilhelm Wundt’s Influence:
The creation of a psychology lab established psychology as a separate field of study with its own methods and questions. Wilhelm Wundt’s support of experimental psychology also set the stage for behaviorism and many of his experimental methods are still used today.
Wundt also had many students who later became prominent psychologists, including Edward Titchener, James McKeen Cattell, Charles Spearman, G. Stanley Hall, Charles Judd and Hugo Munsterberg.
Selected Publications by Wundt:
- W. Wundt, (1862) Beiträge zur Theorie der Sinneswahrnehmung.
- W. Wundt, (1893) Vorlesungen über die Menschen und Thierseele.
- W. Wundt, (1900-1920) Völkerpsychologie, 10 volumes.