German Philosopher & Psychologist
- Student of:
- Influenced by:
- Students: J. M. Cattell, Titchener, Spearman
- Time Period: The Great Schools
- Tubingen University (1851)
- University of Heidelberg (M.D., 1856)
- Privatdozent in the Physiological (1857-1864)
- Professor of Inductive Philosophy at Zurich University (1874)
- Professor of Inductive Philosophy at Leipzig University (1875-1917)
- Established the world’s first experimental laboratory in psychology, the Institut fur Experimentelle Psychologie (1879)
- Often referred to as the “Father of Experimental Psychology” and the “Founder of Modern Psychology”
Ideas and Interests
Wundt established the first laboratory in the world dedicated to experimental psychology. This laboratory became a focus for those with a serious interest in psychology, first for German philosophers and psychology students, then for American and British students as well. All subsequent psychological laboratories were closely modeled in their early years on the Wundt model.
Wundt’s revolutionary approach to psychological experimentation moved psychological study from the domain of philosophy and the natural sciences and began to utilize physiological experimental techniques in the laboratory. To Wundt, the essence of all total adjustments of the organism was a psychophysical process, an organic response mediated by both the physiological and the psychological. He pioneered the concept of stating mental events in relation to objectively knowable and measurable stimuli and reactions. Wundt perceived psychology as part of an elaborate philosophy where mind is seen as an activity, not a substance. The basic mental activity was designated by Wundt as ‘apperception’.
Physiological psychology was concerned with the process of excitations from stimulation of the sense organs, through sensory neurons to the lower and higher brain centers, and from these centers to the muscles. Parallel with this process ran the events of mental life, known through introspection. Introspection became, for Wundt, the primary tool of experimental psychology. In Wundt’s 1893 edition of Physiological Psychology, he published the ‘tridimensional theory of feeling’: feelings were classified as pleasant or unpleasant, tense or relaxed, excited or depressed. A given feeling might be at the same time a combination of one of each of the categories.
Wundt’s method of introspection did not remain a fundamental tool of psychological experimentation past the early 1920’s. His greatest contribution was to show that psychology could be a valid experimental science. His influence in promoting psychology as a science was enormous. Despite poor eyesight, Wundt, it has been estimated, published 53,000 pages, enough to stock a complete library.
As noted above, a primary preoccupation of many early psychologists, such as Wundt and Fechner, was with the measurement of powers of sensory discrimination, resulting in the theory and methodology of psychophysics, the science of quantitative relations between physical magnitudes and sensations. This interest with measurements led Wundt to develop what would be the foundation for Binet’s scale of intelligence. Binet had developed a scale where specific tasks were directly correlated to different levels of abilities or a mental age. However, Binet was not suggesting that each task would correspond exactly and reliably to a particular mental level. As the scale developed, Binet found it necessary to use a number of tasks at each level to determine mental age. At this point, the task of determining a person’s mental age was reminiscent of one of the psychophysical methods developed by Wundt to determine the level of a person’s sensitivity to faint stimuli or to small physical differences in stimuli.
- Vorlesungen uber die Menschen und Tier-Seele (1863, English translation, Lectures on Human and Animal Psychology, 1896)
- Grundzuge der physiologeschen Psychologie (1874, English translation, Principles of Physiological Psychology, 1904).
- Philosophische Studien, the first journal of psychology (1871)
- Volkerpsychologie (social psychology), (10 vols, 1911-1920)
References: 3, 10, 37
Image Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine