Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Wundt, Wilhelm (1832–1920) from The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science

Wilhelm Wundt studied medicine at the University of Tubingen and at Heidelberg, where he changed his major to physiology and earned his doctorate in 1855. He remained there until 1874, teaching and formulating his ideas about psychology. His books of 1858 and 1862, Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception, formalized these ideas. He was appointed professor of philosophy in 1875 at Leipzig, where he worked for the next 45 years. Edward B. Titchener was Wundt’s student and the proponent of his “structuralism” psychology in the United States. Many other prominent individuals came to Leipzig to study and work with Wundt; these included G. Stanley Hall, Emil Kraepelin, Lightner Witmer, J. Mck. Cattell, Hugo Munsterberg, and E. C. Spearman.

Wundt created and developed the first school of psychological thought, structuralism, the basic building block of which was sensation. He established a laboratory for experimental research and a journal called Philosophical Studies. He wrote what has been claimed to be the most important book in the history of psychology, Principles of Physiological Psychology. His students were carefully instructed in his methodology of introspection or self-observation. Although structuralism is no longer a school of thought in contemporary psychology, Wundt’s systematic efforts established psychology as a new and recognized science in Germany in the nineteenth century.

Using the method of introspection, students and researchers investigated the subject matter of immediate experience through exacting attention to sensations and feelings. The goals of structuralism were to analyze conscious processes into basic elements, to discover how these elements were connected, and to establish the laws of these connections. The elements of immediate experience included sensations that were classified by modality, intensity, and duration, and feelings that were identified in a tridimensional theory of equilibrium between pleasure-displeasure, tension-relaxation, and excitement- depression. Wundt also introduced the idea of apperception, that the creative synthesis of these elements of experience is an active process whereby something new arises. This synthesis has been called the law of psychic resultants, and it seems analogous to the Gestalt idea that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

In the first part of the twentieth century, Wundt concerned himself with the various levels of mental development as expressed in language and myths, art forms, and social customs, including laws and morals. These higher mental processes were recorded in 10 volumes of Folk Psychology and were differentiated from the simpler mental processes of sensation and perception. This work served to divide psychology into the experimental, using laboratory methods, and social, using nonexperimental approaches of sociology and anthropology.

N. A. HAYNIE
Honolulu, HI
Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article Wundt, Wilhelm Max
Biographical Dictionary of Psychology

Born : 1832, Neckarau, Baden, Germany Died : 1920, Grossbathen, Leipzig, Germany Nat : German Ints : Attention, apperception,...

Full text Article Wundt, Wilhelm Max
Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Philosophers

German, b: 1832, Mannheim, Germany, d: 1920, Grossbothen, near Munich. Cat: Psychologist; physiologist. Ints: Introspective and...

Full text Article Wundt, Wilhelm (1832 - 1920)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

His Principles of Physiological Psychology (2 vols, 1873-74) was one of the first scientific approaches to the study of the...

See more from Credo