With his mentor, the famous Wilhelm Wundt, Edward Titchener was the founder of structuralist psychology, A psychological current of a theoretical and methodological nature which focused on the analysis of mental processes by introspection and which emerged during the first years of the twentieth century.
Although this school of thought was overcome by the functionalism of William James, which gave way to behaviorism, and by other psychological orientations opposed to the proposals of Wundt and Titchener (such as the German Gestalt), it had an influence key in the development of scientific psychology, if not if it happened mainly by reaction.
Biography of Edward Titchener
When he began his studies at the university, the British Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927) concentrated on classical literature; however, he is increasingly interested in biology. In particular, the book “Principles of Physiological Psychology” by Wilhelm Wundt, who founded the first psychological laboratory and is considered the father of scientific psychology, caught his attention.
After translating the work of the German psychophysiologist into English, Titchener moved to Leipzig to study with his idol; it was 1890. Supervised by Wundt, Titchener published his doctoral thesis, In which he analyzed binocular or stereoscopic vision (the phenomenon by which images captured by both eyes are processed together).
In 1892 Titchener returned to the United Kingdom for a few months; he then moved to Ithaca, a city in the state of New York, to work as a professor of psychology and philosophy at Cornell University. There he founded his own psychology lab, as well as the dissemination and development of Wundt’s ideas to give way to structuralist psychology.
Titchener did not devote himself solely to teaching, although that was his main profession; he has also published several books focusing on psychological theory and methodology, Including Experimental Psychology (1901-1905), and was the editor of major scientific journals such as the American Journal of Psychology.
The structuralist school played an important role in early 20th century psychology. Titchener, Wundt and other theorists of this orientation aimed to analyze the mind from the basic elements that compose it, And how these come together to form complex processes. For this, they mainly relied on the introspective method.
There is debate as to whether the foundation of structuralist psychology is to be attributed to Wundt or Titchener. even if the central ideas of this psychological orientation come from WundtIt was Titchener who systematized, extended, and popularized his proposals in the United States, which by this time was becoming the global nucleus of psychology.
Structuralist psychology proposes that we can understand the structure of mental processes through the definition and categorization of the elements that make up the psyche, in particular the mental contents and the processes by which they take place.
Titchener asserted that consciousness (or mind) is made up of three types of phenomena: sensations, affections and images. When several of the same class come together, complex processes appear. Sensations would be the elements that make up perceptions, while affections would give rise to emotions and ideas to thoughts.
The introspective method
Titchener’s structuralist psychology was based on the use of the introspective method, whereby a trained subject plays the role of observer and descriptor of their own psychological processes. To induce different types of stimuli were used, which varied depending on the task to be performed and the type of mental content studied.
The introspective method had already been used by Wundt; however, Titchener applied it in a much more rigorous manner. In particular, this author rejected the study of unconscious processes, which includes constructs such as “instinct”. Thus, his study techniques focused on the description of conscious psychological experience.
According to Titchener, it is possible to gain reliable information about the nature of the mind through introspection and self-knowledge. In fact, for this author, it is the only method that allows you to analyze mental processes reliablyAs he asserted that psychology must necessarily be a discipline based on introspection.
The legacy of structuralism
Structuralist psychology is generally considered to have disappeared with Titchener: the psychological schools which opposed this author’s approaches have won the ideological battle in the scientific community. However, and like Wundt, Titchener played a key role in the development of experimental and scientific psychology.
William James’ functionalism emerged as a reaction to Titchener’s structuralism. This orientation focused on the relevance of aspects forgotten by structuralist psychology such as empirical methods, statistical comparison or systematic experimentation, and was the fundamental antecedent of Watson’s behaviorism.
At present, the type of psychology advocated by Titchener is still alive in a different form from cognitive psychology, which also focuses on the description of mental processes and phenomena in many subjective cases. In addition, the usefulness of the introspective method has been appreciated by a large number of psychologists in recent decades.
A curious fact about Titchener is the fact that it is this author who coined the Anglo-Saxon term “Empathy” (Empathy). The word comes from the classical Greek “empatheia”, which means “passion or physical affection”; it was adapted into German (“Einfühlung”) by Hermann Lotze and Robert Vischer and finally Titchener himself translated it into English.
- Hothersall, D. (2004). History of psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Titchener, EB (1902). Experimental Psychology: A Manual of Laboratory Practice (Vol. 1). New York: MacMillan & Co., Ltd.