Tuesday, May 12, 2015


The first part of the series - Initially Not A Psychologist ...

Wilhelm Wundt
Wilhelm Wundt is considered to be one of the most important figures in psychology. He was the first person to advocate experimentation in psychology and is credited to establish the first psychology laboratory at the University of Leipzig, Germany. He is thus known to be the founder of experimental psychology.
Introducing experiments in psychology also made it to be scientific and distinct from philosophy, which makes Wundt to be known as the founder of the new science of psychology or the father of modern psychology. Wundt, however, did not begin his career as a psychologist; he, initially, was not a psychologist.
Before being a psychologist, Wundt began his career as a physician. He studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg. While studying medicine, he developed a lot more interest in physiology and in went to the University of Berlin to study under the great physiologist, Johannes Muller, the person who had established the first laboratory of experimental physiology.
Wundt studied under Muller for only one semester, but it was good enough to inspire him to do research in physiological processes, which would, later on, eventually get him interested in psychology. He returned to the University of Heidelberg to complete his doctorate in medicine and was appointed as lecturer of physiology. From 1858 onwards, for 13 years, Wundt was involved in doing research in physiology as an assistant to the physician and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz.
While doing research in physiology, his background in medicine helped him to emphasize the physiological aspects in behavior. This is what made Wundt become interested in psychology. During this time he began to develop his ideas about psychology. He began to conceive of a field of psychology that would be an independent and experimental science.
Wundt presented his ideas about psychology in the form of a book titled, Contributions To The Theory Of Sensory Perception, which was published in sections, between 1858 and 1862. In this book, Wundt described his experiments and gave his views on the proper methods for the new psychology that he had conceived. It was in this book that Wundt used the term experimental psychology for the first time. This book is considered to be one of the first books of modern psychology.
In 1867, at the University of Heidelberg, Wundt offered the course on physiological psychology. This is the first time such a course was offered in a formal manner anywhere in the world. This could very well be considered the first formal course on psychology.
The course on physiological psychology led to the highly significant book titled Principles Of Physiological Psychology, which was published in two parts, first in 1873 and then in 1874. This book was Wundt’s systematic call for a new discipline of psychology. The book attempted to establish the whole framework of psychology as an experimental science of the mind, to be studied through its processes. Wundt advocated the creation of the field of experimental psychology, which was physiologically oriented and emphasized on basic sensory processes.
In 1875, Wundt was appointed as professor of scientific philosophy (as opposed to classical philosophy) at the University of Leipzig. Psychology was not yet established as a separate discipline, which is why he was designated as professor of scientific philosophy.
In 1879, at Leipzig, he established a laboratory to conduct his research. This is viewed to be the first laboratory dedicated exclusively for psychological research. Many see this to be the formal beginning of the new psychology or modern psychology.
In 1881, Wundt began the journal Philosophical Studies, which was the official publication of the laboratory and the new science. In the journal, he reported all the experimental studies of his laboratory. In 1906, Wundt retitled the journal as Psychological Studies.    
With the formation of a laboratory and an official journal, the new psychology that Wundt had conceived of, was firmly established and well under way. Wundt’s laboratory drew in a large number of students to Leipzig, many of who, later on, became significant contributors to the field of psychology. Wundt’s laboratory led to the formation of many psychology laboratories all over Europe and America. It served as a model for many of the new laboratories, and therefore had a major influence in the development of modern psychology.
Psychology as defined by Wundt is the analytical study of the generalized human mind, using the method of introspection. Introspection is a method of gathering data in which the individual attempts to analyse the content of their conscious mind. It is characterized by paying attention not to the whole pattern of a stimulus, but to an elemental part of a stimulus.  
According to Wundt, the purpose of psychology is to study the structure of consciousness. By the structure of consciousness, Wundt meant the relationship of a group of sensations that produces the complex experiences people think of as their conscious mental life.
Wundt’s system of psychology was about studying the contents of the mind and thus came to be known as content psychology. It also emphasized mental structures and was then called structural psychology or structuralism, which was later taken forward by Wundt’s student Edward Bradford Titchener. Structuralism, which was pioneered by Wundt, came to be known to be as the first school of thought of psychology. 

Thus, Wilhelm Wundt, who was trained in medicine and physiology, and was designated as a philosopher, introduced experimentation in psychology, went on to pioneer the first school of psychology, establish psychology as an academic discipline, and came to be known as the father of modern psychology.

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