Wilhelm Wundt Research Paper

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1.    Life And Times

Wilhelm Maximilian  Wundt  was born  on August  16, 1832 in Neckarau, Germany. From  1844, he attended secondary  schools  in  Bruchsal  and  Heidelberg.  He enrolled at Tubingen  for medical study in 1851, then went to Heidelberg,  where he earned his doctorate in 1856  with  a  work  ‘On  the  Behavior  of  Nerves  in Inflamed  and  Degenerated Organs.’  In  Heidelberg, neuroanatomist Friedrich   Arnold  and  the  clinician and   pathologist  Ewald   Hasse   guided   his  interest toward    neuroanatomical   and    neurophysiological problems.  During  the  summer  of  1856, he  worked under   Emil   Du   Bois-Reymond  (1818–96)  at   the famous physiological laboratory founded in Berlin by Johannes    Peter   Muller   (1801–56).   Returning  to Heidelberg,   he  became  Hasse’s  assistant.   He  completed postgraduate work in physiology in 1857.

In 1858, Hermann Helmholtz  (1821–94) was made professor  at Heidelberg.  Wundt  was made professor of  Anthropology and  Medical  Psychology  in  1864. For  16 years, he worked  alongside  Helmholtz  at the Physiological   Institute   in  Heidelberg.   During   this period,   his  orientation  shifted   from   experimental physiology to physiological psychology, and finally to philosophy. From 1864 to 1868 he was a representative to parliament in the state  of Baden,  where he advocated social integration for workers. He was appointed professor   of  Inductive   Philosophy   (philosophy   of science) in Zurich,  Switzerland  in 1874. On October 18, 1875 he  accepted  a  professorship in  Leipzig  in Philosophy  (‘with a natural scientific orientation’). In Leipzig,  he  founded   the  world’s  first  Institute   for Experimental  Psychology,  which  soon  attained  international renown.  Students  came  to  Leipzig from many  countries,  including  Bulgaria,  the UK,  Japan, Canada, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Hungary, and especially from the USA. Many  students  went on to establish institutes  in their home countries,  using the Leipzig Institute and its course of study as their model. In  1881,  Wundt   founded   one  of  the  world’s  first journals  of psychology, Philosophical Studies. Wundt died on August 31, 1920 in Großbothen near Leipzig, and was buried in the professors’ section of the South Cemetery in Leipzig.

What kind of an era did Wundt  live in? In the year of his birth  (1832), the celebrated  writer  of German classical literature Johann Wolfgang von Goethe died. In 1848, the revolution  that  sought to achieve democratic process in Germany  failed. In 1871, the Second German  Reich was born after the violence of Prussia’s wars  against  Denmark (1864),  Austria   (1866)  and France  (1870–1), and Austria  was excluded from the German  states’ centuries-long  common  political  development. By the time Wundt died (1920), the Second German  Reich had lost World War I in 1918 and the Weimar Republic had been established. Looking back, Wundt  wrote in his memoirs: ‘Lived experience is the most immediate of what the gods have bestowed, but knowledge  is the better  portion  of what  he has been granted’ (Wundt  1920, p. iv).

2.    Work  And Influence

2.1     An Overview

Early in his career, Wundt focused on the experimental analysis of physiological and then psychophysiological problems.  Somewhat later, he attempted to provide a philosophical foundation for his experimental  work. The titles of his works published in Heidelberg vividly illustrate   his  path:  Contributions  to  the  Science  of Muscle Movements (1858), Contributions to the Theory of Sense Perception’ (1859–62), Lectures on the Mind of Humans and Animals (1863), Textbook of Physiology (1864), Physical Axioms (1866), Handbook of Medical Physics  (1867), and  Principles of Physiological Psychology (1874). In 1902, one of his first biographers summarized: ‘Evidently, it was involvement with questions of sensory physiology that first awakened in Wundt   the   need  for  a  philosophical  orientation’ (Konig 1902, p. 23).

In Heidelberg, Wundt also developed the fundamentals  of his ethnopsychology (Volkerpsychologie), stimulated by the work of Moritz Lazarus (1824–1903) and  Hajim  Steinthal  (1823–99) in  their  Journal  for Ethnopsychology    and   Linguistics   published    from 1859.  Decades  later  in  Leipzig,  Wundt   elaborated these fundamentals into a ‘general psychology’ and a ‘general  developmental   psychology.’  After  1875, he wrote the works that  would bring him world renown as  a  methodologist, experimental  psychologist,  and ethnopsychologist.  This   progression,   too,   can   be traced in the titles of his books: System  of Philosophy (1889), Logic:  An  Investigation  of  the  Principles of Knowledge   and   Methods    of   Scientific    Research (finally   a   three-volume    work,   1906–8),  Introduction to  Philosophy  (1901), and  the  10-volume  work Ethnopsychology  (1900–20). Between 1908 and  1911, he also expanded Principles of Physiological Psychology, his standard work on experimental individual psychology,’ to three volumes. His students in Leipzig carried out the psychological  experiments that  would fill the  20 volumes  of his Philosophical Studies  and those of the subsequent  Psychological Studies.

2.2     Wundt’s Major Work—Individual Psychology And Ethnopsychology

Wundt’s  major   work  was  devoted   to  psychology, which was for him the basis of philosophy. His psychology had a twofold basis, consisting of a scientifically  oriented   experimental   ‘individual  psychology’ and  a humanistically  oriented  comparative ‘ethnopsychology.’  About  his individual  psychology, he wrote, ‘The concept of individual psychology covers investigations   whose  subject  are  the  psychological processes  of  individual  human  consciousness,  inasmuch   as  these   possess  a  typical,   generally   valid significance for normal  consciousness’ (Wundt  1908, p. 162). He added,  with regard  to methodology, ‘In truth, there are … for individual psychology … two aids available:  casual  self-observation  and  experimental method.  The former assumes both a preparatory and a supplementary function;  the latter,  however, is the sole  tool  for  analysis  of  elementary   psychological processes’ (Wundt  1908, p. 163). ‘Ethnopsychology,’ in  contrast, had  ‘… the  task  of  complementing  individual psychology with information about  the general  mental   products   of  social  life’ (Wundt   1908, p. 163). ‘The principle domains of ethnopsychology … are: language, art, myth and customs. They signify for the consciousness of cultures  what imagination, feeling,  and  will  signify  for  individual   consciousness’ (Wundt  1908, p. 232). Clarifying the main aspects of ethnopsychology he continues,  ‘So the psychological value of language consists primarily in expressing laws of thought, therefore  various  forms  of language  correspond  to  specific steps in the  development  of this basic  mental   function.   In  the  same  way,  myth  is intimately  connected  with the activities of fantasy  in art’  (Wundt  1908, p. 232). Finally,  he describes  the psychological  value of (social) customs,  writing,  ‘As myth does for art and religion, so do customs possess a  central  significance  in their  relation  to  two  other important areas of life’ (Wundt 1908, p. 233). ‘One of these areas  is society … It  is society that  first  makes possible  the  formation  of  customs,   the  prevailing embodiments of norms of will within a society … The other area deriving from customs is law’ (Wundt 1908, p.  234). He  adds  finally:  ‘Language,  art,  myth  and customs   are  thus   not   the  sole  objects  of  ethno- psychology,   but  they  are  the  ones  that   from  the beginning express social life’ (Wundt 1908, p. 234). On methodology  in  ethnopsychology,  he  wrote,   ‘The fundamental   method    of    ethnopsychology … is … comparison  in  the  ways  it  is generally  used  in  the humanities’   (Wundt   1908,  p.  240).  And  he  adds, ‘… ethnopsychology … is conducted … by  assembling for  comparison a  collection  of  facts  about  psychological viewpoints,  and  through this close and  direct connection   to   psychological   analysis,   comparison itself  leads  to  the  establishment  of  psychological laws … In  this  manner,  the  correct  use of  the  comparative  method  here gains a significance similar  to that   of  experimental   procedure   in  individual   psychology’ (Wundt  1908, p. 240).

With   these  ideas,  Wundt   created   a  conceptual framework  that  would have great consequence  in the history   of  psychology:   a  scientific  psychology   of elementary  psychological  phenomena and  a humanistic psychology  of higher psychological  phenomena. Scientific  psychology  is  an  ‘individual  psychology’ since it gets its data  from the experimental  investigation of individuals. Humanistic ‘ethnopsychology’ is a ‘general psychology,’  since it examines  general  psychological objects. As such, it is also a ‘general developmental  psychology’ since those objects also develop  throughout history.  Methodologically, ethnopsychology   gets  its  data   from  the  ethnological analysis  of historically  developed  products  of mind (i.e.,  language,   art  forms,  myths,  customs).   From these,  conclusions  can  be drawn  about  the  psychological  processes  involved  in their  emergence.  Such processes  include  thinking,   feeling,  or  willing.  The view that  a methodical  humanistic  approach was the only way to study higher psychological processes was momentous in the history of psychology. According to this  concept,  there  could  be  no  experimental   psychology   of  thinking,   emotion,   or   volition.   From today’s standpoint it should be noted that Wundt  did recognize that  psychological  methodology could not be solely experimental. It must also be a quasiexperimental   and   historical   methodology.  On  the other  hand,  his view that  higher  psychological  processes were inaccessible to experimentation proved to be false. Wundt’s methodological quarrel at the beginning  of the twentieth  century  with members  of the  Wurzburg  school  around Oswald  Kulpe  (1862– 1915), which concerned the role of experimentation in the psychology of thinking, had already shown that his critique of their method as ‘interrogation experiments’ was untenable.

3.    Wundt And The Genesis Of The Discipline Of Modern Psychology

Wundt made fundamental contributions to the genesis of the  discipline  of modern  psychology  in the  nineteenth   and   twentieth   centuries,   in  Germany   and beyond.  This  genesis may  be described  generally  in terms of six phases and their corresponding developmental features.

First,  Wundt  had a lasting impact  on the development of the subject matter  and methods  of empirical psychology   since  the  beginning   of  the  nineteenth century  with his ‘individual  psychology.’ This is also true  to a certain  extent  for his ‘ethnopsychology’,  if historically  developed products  of mind are regarded as historical  empirical experience.

Second,  Wundt  was influential  in institutionalization, that is, founding institutes for experimental psychology   and   anchoring   them  in  the  university system, as well as other  forms of institutionalization, such as the founding  of scholarly journals  and scholarly   societies.  Active   in  scientific  policy  making, Wundt  made a definitive contribution to institutionalization by  founding   the  world’s  first  psychological laboratory, the Institute  for Experimental Psychology  at the University  of Leipzig in 1879. He also founded  one of the first experimental  journals  in psychology, Philosophical Studies in 1881.

Third, Wundt can be said to have contributed to the temporary  division  into  major   schools  during   the period between about1890  and 1940, inasmuch  as his institute  became a model for psychological  institutes in many  countries.  But  he did  not  found  an  actual school in the strict sense of the Berlin school of Gestalt psychology, the Wurzburg school of cognitive psychology, or the Vienna school of psychoanalysis.

The  fourth  phase  is the  development   of  applied psychology,  that  is,  through the  inclusion  and  development  of fields of praxis  outside  the universities and higher education  after about  1890. Wundt had an ambivalent,   rather   negative  relationship to  the  development of applied psychology. In his opinion, psychology  should  attempt  a transition to  practical applications only  after  its foundation has  been systematically  constructed (Wundt  1913).

Fifth, with his twofold psychology and with numerous students from many countries, Wundt made a definitive contribution to the development  of a pluralistic  system of psychology  and  to  the  gradual integration of the major schools after about  1930.

The final phase  is professionalization, that  is, the establishment, social anchoring, and state certification of standards for academically  educated  psychologists active  outside  of  the  university  system  around  the time of World War I. With his early work in developing a  curriculum  for  the  education  and  training  of psychologists,  Wundt  contributed indirectly  to  professionalization. This  curriculum,  with  further  contributions from  other  psychologists,  was adopted  in 1941 in the form of the first state diploma examination regulations  in Germany.

The genesis of the discipline  described  above  was initially,  in  the  nineteenth   century,  determined  primarily by experimental  psychology.  This constituted the  first  phase  of  methodological  development   in which experimental  methods,  the technical apparatus and  the mathematics of experimental  physics and  of experimental  physiology were transferred to psychology. Wundt’s ‘individual psychology’ is an expression of this development. It thus becomes understandable why many of the ‘pioneers’ of modern psychology,  Wundt’s  contemporaries in nineteenth century Germany, were trained  as experimental physicists or experimental  physiologists. They include Ernst  Heinrich  Weber  (1795–1878),  anatomist and physiologist,   Gustav   Theodor  Fechner   (1801–87), doctor  and  physicist,  and  Hermann von  Helmholtz (1821–94), physiologist and physicist.

During  the second half of the nineteenth  century a second phase of methodological development  began. More  or less standardized nonexperimental methods were  added  step  by  step  to  the  experimental   procedures. These methods were initially analytical documentary  procedures  that  Wundt  called  methods  of ‘comparison’ within his ‘ethnopsychology.’ Later they also included  the preexperimental empirical methods based on the paradigms  of assessment,  achievement, arrangement, and interpretation. These methods  contributed  significantly  to the development  of psychodiagnostic   procedures.   Both  groups   of  nonexperimental   procedures    today   constitute    elements   of ‘historiographic’ and ‘quasi-experimental’ methodology in psychology.  Wundt’s work and its influence may be categorized within these two phases of nineteenth-century methodological development:  his experimental  ‘individual  psychology’ falls within the first phase and his nonexperimental ‘ethnopsychology’ within the second.

4.    Review And Outlook—What Was Transitory, What  Endures

Four  achievements  of Wundt’s  life’s work  must  be especially  emphasized.  First,  he  contributed, in  the politics of science, to the genesis of the discipline of modern  psychology, that is, to its independence  as an empirical psychology with its own subject matter  and methods.   Second,  he  constructed a  system  of  psychology  as  an  experimental  ‘individual  psychology’ and as a humanistic ‘ethnopsychology.’ Third, he founded  the  world’s first  Institute  for  Experimental Psychology, which gave impetus to the institutionalization of psychology  and  fourth,  he founded one of the first scientific journals for psychology, Philosophical Studies.

Critically  it should  be noted  that  Wundt’s concept of the experimental  inaccessibility of higher  psychological processes played a limited role for a time in the discipline’s development.  However,  even some of his contemporaries did not share this idea. They included Gustav  Theodor Fechner (1801–87), Carl Stumpf (1848–1936), Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909), Georg  Elias Muller  (1850–1934) and  Oswald  Kulpe (1862–1915).  Nor  did  many  experimental   psychologists  of  the  next  generation, such  as  Narziß  Ach (1871–1946), Karl Buhler (1879–1963), Max Wertheimer  (1880–1943) or Otto  Selz (1881–1944), share Wundt’s view.

Wundt’s writings and activities attained worldwide influence, especially because of his many students.  It was  them,  most  of  all,  who  spread   the  tradition of experimental ‘individual psychology.’ Granville Stanley Hall (1844–1924), who established the second psychological laboratory in the USA at Johns Hopkins University  in Baltimore  in 1883 and in 1887 founded the American Journal of Psychology, was a prime example. Another was James McKeen Cattell (1860–1944), Wundt’s  first assistant  in Leipzig, who occupied  the first chair in psychology  in the USA at the  University  of Pennsylvania  in 1887. He  became known primarily as the cofounder of the field of psychological diagnostic testing. Edward Bradford Titchener  (1867–1927) who  left Oxford,  England  in 1890, spent two years in Leipzig and went on to promulgate  Wundt’s   teachings   as  structuralism at Cornell University  in the USA. Another  student  was Dimitrij  Nikolaevich  Uznadze  (1887–1950), founder of the Georgian  school of psychology and known for his theory  of set. Notable  among  Wundt’s  German students were Emil Kraepelin  (1856–1926), one of the founders of modern psychiatry, psychopharmacology, and experimental psychodiagnostics; Ernst Meumann (1862–1915), founder of experimental  pedagogy; Theodor Lipps  (1851–1914), an  exponent  of experimental esthetics; Hugo Munsterberg (1863–1916), founder of industrial psychology and cofounder of applied  psychology  (‘psychotechnics’); and  Karl Marbe  (1869–1953), one of the founders  of forensic psychology.

References:

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