Saturday, November 14, 2020


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

Robert Sessions Woodworth

Robert Sessions Woodworth was an influential functional psychologist, who spearheaded the functionalist movement at Columbia, independently, away from Chicago, from where it was originally established. Woodworth had elaborated the work of William James and John Dewey. He also introduced ideas that was extensively used by schools and perspectives of psychology that emerged after functionalism. Woodworth, however, did not begin his career as a psychologist. He was, initially, not a psychologist.

In 1891, Woodworth completed his Bachelor’s in philosophy, from Amherst College. After that he became a science and mathematics instructor for undergraduate students. During that time, he attended a lecture given by Granville StanleyHall. After that he read William James’s Principles of Psychology. These two experiences, especially reading the book by William James, played a huge influential role on him, and he decided to become a psychologist. He completed his Master’s at Harvard, where he studied under William James. At the suggestion of James, he completed his doctorate at Columbia, under James McKeen Cattell. The title of his dissertation being The Accuracy of Voluntary Movement.

Woodworth introduced the idea of dynamic psychology, which was an elaboration of the works of William James and John Dewey. Dynamic psychology is about motivation - the ‘why’ of behavior. Woodworth, however, differed from James and Dewey in the sense that he was giving more emphasis to the underlying physiological aspects of behavior that he felt drive or motivate behavior. His views can be seen to be similar to the instinct theory of motivation by William McDougal.

Apart from dynamic psychology, Woodworth propagated for objectivity in psychology. He believed that psychology should be studying stimulus and response. However, he also suggested that the organism should be considered to be the mediator between external stimulus and the response. He believed that varying energy levels and past and current experiences also play a role in determining behavior. It was due to this that Woodworth opined that both consciousness and behavior should be the subject matter of psychology.

In giving his views about the nature of psychology and its subject matter, Woodworth can be seen to foreshadowing schools and perspectives of psychology that emerged later on. His emphasis on the organism mediating stimulus and response were later examined extensively by neo-behaviorists Clark Hull and Edward Tolman. They suggested a number of intervening variables, within the organism, that they felt to be important in determining a response. It was the suggestion of these intervening variables by Hull and Tolman that made them move beyond the stimulus-response (S-R) connection of Watsonian behaviorism to stimulus-organism-response (S-O-R) connection.

Further, Woodworth suggesting both consciousness and behavior to be the subject matter of psychology was later adopted by the social theorists, like Albert Bandura and Julian Rotter. A similar approached can even be found in humanistic psychology, which emphasizes on conscious experiences as well as behavior in the realization of true potential. Woodworth, in this way, can be viewed as someone who links functionalism with behaviorism and humanistic psychology.

Woodworth turned out to be a highly influential psychologist. He wrote about his perspectives of psychology in his books Dynamic Psychology, published in 1918, and Dynamic Behavior, published in 1958. His book Psychology, published in 1921, is considered to be one of the most widely read psychology textbooks of that time. His book Experimental Psychology, first published in 1938, ended up being a classic textbook in psychology. Due to his influential writings, Woodworth has been one the most cited psychologists.

Starting his career as a science and mathematics instructor, Woodworth decided to become a psychologist after attending a lecture of Granville Stanley Hall and reading William James’s Principles of Psychology. His ideas and approach to psychology were later adopted and examined by highly significant perspectives in psychology that emerged later in the history of psychology.

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