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German Philosopher & Psychologist
- 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
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Content questions: Dr. Jonathan
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16 May 2013