Thursday, December 30, 2021


Wilhelm Wundt
Wilhelm Wundt had envisioned the discipline of psychology to include methods of study based on the natural sciences. He believed that this would make psychology different from philosophy and establish it as an independent, academic discipline.

Wundt became successful in his vision by establishing the first experimental psychology laboratory at Leipzig, Germany, in 1879. The laboratory for many years was the leading center for studying psychology, and people from all over the world visited it to study there. 

In 1892, after studying under Wundt, for two years, at Leipzig, Edward Bradford Titchener returned to the USA and began to propagate his perspective of psychology. He claimed to be carrying forward Wundt’s idea of having a discipline of psychology based on the natural sciences.

Edward Titchener
According to Titchener, psychology is the analytic study of the generalized adult normal mind through the method of introspection. Titchener was giving emphasis on studying only adults and excluding the study of children, animals, and abnormal behavior. He believed that psychology should be only about studying basic human processes and has nothing to do with applying knowledge in everyday life.

Further, Titchener proposed that one of the major goals of psychology is to identify the basic elements of conscious experience. In doing so, he was then going along with the idea of elementism, which is the belief that complex processes can be understood by studying the basic elements involved in them. For this, Titchener suggested that the method of introspection be used in experimental conditions.

While Titchener was propagating his perspective of psychology, another view of psychology was emerging and gaining a lot of popularity. This perspective, sometimes referred to as the Chicago School of Psychology, directly targeted Titchener’s psychology for its artificiality and limited scope.

In 1898, Titchener published a paper titled The Postulates of a Structural Psychology in The Philosophical Review. In this paper, Titchener differentiated his perspective of psychology - calling it structuralism - from the other one - calling it functionalism. In distinguishing the two, Titchener emphasized that his structuralism is the true and original psychology, whereas functionalism is the other one, which should be ignored.

Functionalism as a school of psychology formally began in 1894, which was then called the Chicago School of Psychology. One of the main founders of functionalism is John Dewey. However, functionalism is based mainly on the works of William James.

Functionalism is about how the mind functions or how the organism uses conscious experiences to adapt to the environment. It becomes different from structuralism in that it does not believe in elementism. Functional psychologists believed that the mind or consciousness could not be broken down into smaller elements. They suggested the idea of the unity of consciousness.

William James
In order to suggest the idea of the unity of consciousness, William James coined the term stream of consciousness. James suggested that consciousness is a continuous flow, and thus it is not possible to break it down into smaller elements. Any attempts to break it down, according to James, will distort conscious experiences and lose their true meaning.

Functionalism, further, differed from structuralism in that it significantly widened the scope of psychology. Whereas Titchener restricted the study of the mind to normal adults, functional psychologists included the study of children, abnormal behavior, and even animals.

Functional psychologists also believed in using multiple methods. In contrast to Titchener, who suggested that only introspection in an experimental setup be used, functional psychologists suggested using the methods of observation, psychological testing, questionnaires, and physiological measures along with introspection and experimentation.

Functionalism also majorly differed from structuralism in its utilitarian aspect. Titchener had clearly emphasized that structuralism is only about understanding basic human processes and has nothing to do with the application of knowledge. For Titchener, structuralism was about answering the question of what are the contents of consciousness?

In contrast, functionalism was looking to answer the question of how does consciousness help the organism adapt to the environment? The emphasis of functionalism was on the processes of the mind instead of the content. Functionalism emphasized the functions of consciousness in adaptation. It was concerned with the utilities of consciousness. Due to this, functionalism eventually became concerned with the application of psychology to everyday life.

Titchener, in his paper The Postulates of a Structural Psychology, suggested that structuralism is the true, original psychology. He named the other perspective as functionalism to differentiate it from his structuralism and suggested it to be the other perspective, the one that came up later, and thus, should be ignored. However, there can be arguments made against this claim of Titchener.

Functionalism emphasized on how consciousness helps the organism to adapt to the environment. Due to an emphasis on adaptation in the environment, the roots of functionalism can be traced back to the ideas of Charles Darwin. 

Charles Darwin
In his theory of evolution, Darwin suggested that there are variations among different species. Based on this variation, some species can adapt well to the environment and survive, whereas others cannot adapt and do not survive. This variation in species is due to natural selection. Darwin further suggested that these variations within species that allow some to adapt and survive can be inherited.

Later on, Darwin’s notion of evolution became the basis to bring about a shift in psychology – from emphasizing the structure of consciousness to the functions of consciousness. The idea of Darwin about how organisms adapt to the environment became one of the main foci of functionalism. In this way, Darwin is considered to be a highly significant antecedent of functionalism.

Inspired by Darwin, his cousin Francis Galton thought of studying inheritance and individual differences in human beings. He became interested in studying the inheritance of intelligence. Based on his studies, he suggested that humans have individual differences in intelligence due to inheritance. His findings led to the beginning of the idea of psychological testing.

During the same time, a wide range of research on animal behavior was being carried out. The evolutionary biologists George Romanes and Thomas Morgan are the pioneers of animal psychology. Their research led to the development of the idea that there is a relationship between lower animals and human beings and that conclusions about human behavior can be derived from research in animals.

All these works had a strong influence on functionalism. Functional psychologists gave emphasis to adaptation in the environment, individual differences, psychological testing, and animal psychology. These major works were being carried out during the same time when the foundations of structuralism were being built.

Darwin wrote about his theory of evolution in his book The Origin of Species, which was published in 1859. Galton wrote about the inheritance of intelligence in his book Hereditary Genius, which was published in 1869. Further, the animal psychology experiments were being conducted in the 1880s, and William James’s landmark book Principles of Psychology, which became the basis for the establishment of functionalism, was published in 1890.

The book The Origin of Species was published almost at the same time as Wundt’s Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception. Wundt’s work was published in 1858, in which he had the first time described his methods for the new psychology based on natural sciences that he had envisioned. It was in this book that Wundt had mentioned the term experimental psychology for the first time.

Further, Darwin’s book was published about 15 years before Wundt’s Principles of Physiological Psychology. It was in this book that Wundt had outlined his ideas of a new psychology. Additionally, Darwin’s book came 20 years before Wundt had established the first experimental psychology laboratory.

Darwin’s book also was published a year before Fechner’s Elements of Psychophysics. Fechner described a number of experimental methods in his book and is often considered to be the major precursor behind the beginning of experimental psychology.

Similarly, Galton’s Hereditary Genius was published about 4 years before Wundt’s Principles of Physiological Psychology and about 10 years before the establishment of the first experimental psychology laboratory. Additionally, the pioneering researches on animal psychology were being conducted before Titchener had gone to Leipzig to study under Wundt, and James’s Principles of Psychology was published before Titchener had returned to the USA to propagate his structural psychology.

The works of Darwin, Galton, Romanes and Morgan, and William James are all significant antecedents of functionalism. These works were being carried out during the same time as Wundt’s and Fechner's works, which turned out to be significant precursors of Titchener’s structuralism.

This directly counters Titchener's argument that structuralism is the original perspective of psychology and functionalism is the other perspective. Based on the time period of the antecedents of the functional psychologists, functionalism can equally be called the true, original perspective of psychology.

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